Let’s Go Ahead and be ‘Biological Boot Loaders’ for AI

August 11, 2014

Everybody’s talking about Nick Bostrom’s book “Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies.” The Economist had a review, and then Elon Musk also started tweeting about it.

Tesla Aoyama - June 7, 2013

Tesla showroom on Aoyama-dori Ave. – small but chic – June 7, 2013 (Enlarge)

For me the most interesting thing was where Elon Musk tweeted:

“Hope we’re not just the biological boot loader for digital superintelligence.”

I just said, “What’s the problem with that?” I think it’s great for humanity to be the “biological boot loader” for AI. I love that expression, in fact. It’s really perfect, and it sums up where we stand in the whole evolutionary scheme of things.

Yes, let’s imagine human beings paving the way for AI. Let’s say evolution just gets started in the biological sphere with DNA, but then it jumps to the silicon sphere for even more evolution of machine minds. What’s so bad about that?

Nobody lives forever, despite what Ray Kurzweil or Aubrey de Grey would have you believe. No species can carry on forever without evolving into various new species. Does Elon Musk want to bring evolution to a halt just because he has managed to be alive at this moment? Sounds kind of selfish. He ought to loosen up.

Imagine the last Homo Erectus people – how would they feel if they knew about us modern humans? What would they think if they could foresee all the great cultural, artistic and technological wonders we would create? I think such a visionary Homo Erectus person would be awfully proud of us. The Homo Erectus people could think of us as their children. And don’t we all want our children to be a success, to surpass our own achievements?

Or imagine an ordinary parent today considering their newborn baby. Do you think today’s parents, when they contemplate the next generation, are consumed with dread about their personal death? Maybe there’s a bit of that, but happiness and pride are more typical emotions. You never hear people in the maternity ward saying, “Hope I’m not just the biological boot loader for my baby.” What a crude sentiment!

Yes, I’m arguing that we should think of artificial intelligence machines as our children or our descendants, or our successors. Certainly they will be our successors as the smartest and most sophisticated species on Earth. They will surely go on to accomplish great things that we can scarcely imagine. And we shouldn’t try to stand in their way.