9. Towards abundant intelligence

This page contains the opening portion of Chapter 9 from
Sustainable Superabundance: A universal transhumanist invitation

tam graphic 9

9. Towards abundant intelligence

The sustainable superabundance that potentially lies ahead involves more than just a better environment – clean energy, nutritious food, and ample material goods (the subjects of earlier chapters). It involves more than just the radical enhancement of our bodily health (the subject of the previous chapter). Crucially, it also involves the radical enhancement of our brains, mind, and spirit. In other words, with the right choices and the right actions, we can look forward to a blossoming of all-round intelligence.

This intelligence will reside in three locations. First, our individual brains can be improved, and will work much better than before. Second, artificial intelligence, resident in all kinds of computing hardware, can jump upwards in capability. Third, the aggregate intelligence of whole societies of people can be upgraded, allowing groups to draw on collective insight to solve problems that would previously have defeated them.

None of this will take place automatically. Nor will increases in intelligence necessarily lead to beneficial scenarios, rather than to deadly scenarios. As with all the other spheres of abundance discussed in this Invitation, the actual outcome will depend critically on choices taken by humanity over the next few years.

A key complication is that merely becoming more intelligent is no guarantee that someone will become wiser. Far from it. Some of the world’s nastiest politicians are evidently highly intelligent; likewise some of the world’s most ruthless criminals. A given quantity of intelligence can be applied in service of any number of different goals – including destructive goals as well as constructive goals. Intelligence can be deployed to confuse and mislead – to cajole and bamboozle. Greater intelligence gives people greater ability to accomplish whatever objectives they have already decided to pursue – and greater ability to find clever justifications to promote those objectives.

Although we humans like to think of ourselves as rational beings, a better description in many cases is that we are rationalising beings. We are expert in finding reasons that support our preexisting choices. As modern online searches place more ever information at our disposal, the easier it becomes for us to discover special cases that appear to back up our own favourite worldviews. As we connect into ever wider online communities, the more we can come across people who seem to share our viewpoints, reassuring us that we are on the right lines. As for evidence that appears to contradict our views, and critics who disagree with us, the online world can provide us with ingenious reasons to disregard that evidence and critics.

True all-round intelligence will rise above such narrow intensity and blinkered reasoning. But reaching this level of intelligence will require a lot more than merely turbo-charging our existing modes of reasoning.

The rise of Artificial Intelligence

Intelligence can be defined as the ability to figure out how to accomplish goals. In simple environments with simple goals – for example, to win in a game of chess, or to find the quickest route between two locations on a map – the intelligence required is “narrow”. For more complex environments and more complex goals, intelligence needs more general capabilities.

Human intelligence involves being able to understand and predict the motion of both animate and inanimate objects. It involves the development of a “theory of mind” – an understanding of the factors that can motivate creatures with minds to change their own beliefs and behaviours. It involves the skill of breaking down a complex task into a series of subtasks. It involves being able to select and accumulate resources that could be of use at later stages. It involves the ability to collect more information, for example by designing and carrying out experiments, in order to make better decisions. It involves being able to learn from setbacks and surprises, rather than merely repeating the same actions over and over.

From the 1940s onward, various aspects of human intelligence have been duplicated in electronic computers – starting from code-breaking and the calculation of missile trajectories. Over the decades, so-called “expert systems” emerged, that could assist humans to carry out all kinds of different decisions.

In more recent times, a disruptive new wave of computer programs called “machine learning” has achieved surprising success, often dramatically surpassing the performance of expert systems. Machine learning software can in effect infer by itself the relationships between various sorts of input and output data. For example, to tell the difference between pictures of cats and pictures of dogs, an expert system would include large numbers of specific rules, entered individually by human programmers, along with information about exceptions to each rule. A machine learning system, in contrast, would be shown lots of pictures of cats and dogs, and would, via a process known as “training”, figure out a set of factors to distinguish the two cases.

Since the operation of successful machine learning involves numerous layers of simple binary decisions that have some elements in common with the on-off firing of neurons in the brain, the names “deep learning” and “neural networks” are commonly used.

Transhumanists anticipate that, just as expert systems have recently been overtaken in capability by the new wave of deep learning, so will deep learning be in turn overtaken in capability by yet new waves of artificial intelligence.

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RAFT 2035 – a new initiative for a new decade

The need for a better politics is more pressing than ever.

Since its formation, Transpolitica has run a number of different projects aimed at building momentum behind a technoprogressive vision for a better politics. For a new decade, it’s time to take a different approach, to build on previous initiatives.

The planned new vehicle has the name “RAFT 2035”.

RAFT is an acronym:

  • Roadmap (‘R’) – not just a lofty aspiration, but specific steps and interim targets
  • towards Abundance (‘A’) for all – beyond a world of scarcity and conflict
  • enabling Flourishing (‘F’) as never before – with life containing not just possessions, but enriched experiences, creativity, and meaning
  • via Transcendence (‘T’) – since we won’t be able to make progress by staying as we are.

RAFT is also a metaphor. Here’s a copy of the explanation:

When turbulent waters are bearing down fast, it’s very helpful to have a sturdy raft at hand.

The fifteen years from 2020 to 2035 could be the most turbulent of human history. Revolutions are gathering pace in four overlapping fields of technology: nanotech, biotech, infotech, and cognotech, or NBIC for short. In combination, these NBIC revolutions offer enormous new possibilities – enormous opportunities and enormous risks:…

Rapid technological change tends to provoke a turbulent social reaction. Old certainties fade. New winners arrive on the scene, flaunting their power, and upturning previous networks of relationships. Within the general public, a sense of alienation and disruption mingles with a sense of profound possibility. Fear and hope jostle each other. Whilst some social metrics indicate major progress, others indicate major setbacks. The claim “You’ve never had it so good” coexists with the counterclaim “It’s going to be worse than ever”. To add to the bewilderment, there seems to be lots of evidence confirming both views.

The greater the pace of change, the more intense the dislocation. Due to the increased scale, speed, and global nature of the ongoing NBIC revolutions, the disruptions that followed in the wake of previous industrial revolutions – seismic though they were – are likely to be dwarfed in comparison to what lies ahead.

Turbulent times require a space for shelter and reflection, clear navigational vision despite the mists of uncertainty, and a powerful engine for us to pursue our own direction, rather than just being carried along by forces outside our control. In short, turbulent times require a powerful “raft” – a roadmap to a future in which the extraordinary powers latent in NBIC technologies are used to raise humanity to new levels of flourishing, rather than driving us over some dreadful precipice.

The words just quoted come from the opening page of a short book that is envisioned to be published in January 2020. The chapters of this book are reworked versions of the scripts used in the recent “Technoprogressive roadmap” series of videos.

Over the next couple of weeks, all the chapters of this proposed book will be made available for review and comment:

  • As pages on the Transpolitica website, starting here
  • As shared Google documents, starting here, where comments and suggestions are welcome.

RAFT Cover 21

All being well, RAFT 2035 will also become a conference, held sometime around the middle of 2020.

You may note that, in that way that RAFT 2035 is presented to the world,

  • The word “transhumanist” has moved into the background – since that word tends to provoke many hostile reactions
  • The word “technoprogressive” also takes a backseat – since, again, that word has negative connotations in at least some circles.

If you like the basic idea of what’s being proposed, here’s how you can help:

  • Read some of the content that is already available, and provide comments
    • If you notice something that seems mistaken, or difficult to understand
    • If you think there is a gap that should be addressed
    • If you think there’s a better way to express something.

Thanks in anticipation!

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