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Highlighted passages from Bostrom's Superintelligence

Many of the points made in this book are probably wrong. It is also likely that there are considerations of critical importance that I fail to take into account, thereby invalidating some or all of my conclusions. I have gone to some length to indicate nuances and degrees of uncertainty throughout the text — encumbering it with an unsightly smudge of “possibly,” “might,” “may,” “could well,” “it seems,” “probably,” “very likely,” “almost certainly.” Each qualifier has been placed where it is carefully and deliberately. Yet these topical applications of epistemic modesty are not enough; they must be supplemented here by a systemic admission of uncertainty and fallibility. This is not false modesty: for while I believe that my book is likely to be seriously wrong and misleading, I think that the alternative views that have been presented in the literature are substantially worse - including the default view, according to which we can for the time being reasonably ignore the prospect of superintelligence.

Eighteen months ago:
Go-playing programs have been improving at a rate of about 1 dan per year. If this rate of improvement continues, they might beat the human world champion in about a decade.

We know that blind evolutionary processes can produce human-level general intelligence, since they have already done so at least once. Evolutionary processes with foresight — that is, genetic programs designed and guided by an intelligent human programmer — should be able to achieve a similar outcome with far greater efficiency.

One can speculate that the tardiness and wobbliness of humanity's progress on many of the "eternal problems" of philosophy are due to the unsuitability of the human cortex for philosophical work. On this view, our most celebrated philosophers are like dogs walking on their hind legs - just barely attaining the threshold level of performance required for engaging in the activity at all.

Extremely simple neuron models use about 1,000 floating-point operations per second (FLOPS) to simulate one neuron (for one second of simulated time); an electrophysiologically realistic Hodgkin-Huxley model uses 1,200,000 FLOPS; a more detailed multicompartmental model would add another 3-4 orders of magnitude, while higher-level models that abstract systems of neurons could subtract 2-3 orders of magnitude from the simple models. If we were to simulate 1025 neurons over a billion years of evolution (longer than the existence of nervous systems as we know them) in a year’s runtime, these figures would give us a range of 1031-1044 FLOPS. By contrast, China's Tianhe-2 computer, currently the world’s most powerful supercomputer, provides only 3.39 x 1016 FLOPS. In recent years it has taken approximately 6.7 years for commodity computers to to increase in power by one order of magnitude. Even a century of continued Moore’s law would not be enough to close this gap.

Think of a "discovery" as an act that moves the arrival of information from a later point in time to an earlier time. The discovery's value does not equal the value of the information discovered but rather the value of having the information available earlier than it otherwise would have been. A scientist or a mathematician may show great skill by being the first to find a solution that has eluded many others; yet if the problem would soon have been solved anyway, then the work probably has not much benefited the world (unless having a solution even slightly sooner is immensely valuable or enables further important and urgent work).

The existence of birds demonstrated that heavier-than-air flight was physically possible and prompted efforts to build flying machines. Yet the first functioning airplanes did not flap their wings. The jury is out on whether machine intelligence will be like flight, which humans achieved through an artificial mechanism, or like combustion, which we initially mastered by copying naturally occurring fires.

first reflect for a moment on the vastness of the space of possible minds. In this abstract space, human minds form a tiny cluster. Consider two persons who seem extremely unlike, perhaps Hannah Arendt and Benny Hill. The personality differences between these two individuals may seem almost maximally large. But this is because our intuitions are calibrated on our experience, which samples from the existing human distribution (and to some extent from fictional personalities constructed by the human imagination for the enjoyment of the human imagination). If we zoom out and consider the space of all possible minds, however, we must conceive of these two personalities as virtual clones. Certainly in terms of neural architecture, Ms. Arendt and Mr. Hill are nearly identical. Imagine their brains lying side by side in quiet repose. You would readily recognize them as two of a kind. You might even be unable to tell which brain belonged to whom... human psychology corresponds to a tiny spot in the space of possible minds...

whole brain emulation... represents a limiting case of drawing inspiration from nature: barefaced plagiarism... This path does not require that we figure out how human cognition works or how to program an artificial intelligence. It requires only that we understand how low-level functional characteristics of the basic computational elements of the brain. No fundamental conceptual or theoretical breakthroughs are needed for whole brain emulation to succeed.

...emulations would at least be more likely to have human-like motivations (as opposed to valuing only paperclips or discovering digits of pi). Depending on one’s views on human nature, this might or might not be reassuring.

In academia, the rigid division of researchers, students, journals, grants, and prizes into separate self-contained disciplines — though unconducive to the type of work represented by this book —
might (only in a conciliatory and mellow frame of mind) be viewed as a necessary accommodation to the practicalities of allowing large numbers of diversely motivated individuals and teams to contribute to the growth of human knowledge while working relatively independently, each plowing their own furrow.

This strategy [minimising the costs of intelligence by maintaining only enough to fulfill your goals] is exemplified by the sea squirt larva, which swims about until it finds a suitable rock, to which it then permanently affixes itself. Cemented in place, the larva has less need for complex information processing, whence it proceeds to digest part of its own brain (its cerebral ganglion). One can observe the same phenomenon in some academics when they have been granted tenure.

A version of the benign approach [toward creating a politially unified world] was tried in 1946 by the United States in the form of the Baruch plan. The proposal involved the USA giving up its temporary nuclear monopoly. Uranium and thorium mining and other nuclear technology would be placed under the control of an international agency operating under the auspices of the United Nations. The proposal called for the permanent members of the Security Council to give up their vetoes in matters related to nuclear weapons in order to prevent any great power found to be in breach of the accord from vetoing the imposition of remedies. Stalin, seeing that the Soviet Union and its allies could be easily outvoted in both the Security Council and the General Assembly, rejected the proposal. A frosty atmosphere of mutual suspicion descended on the relations between the former wartime allies, mistrust that soon solidified into the Cold War. As had been widely predicted, a costly and extremely dangerous nuclear arms race followed.

A passage which has been tendentiously misread as hitting us with "Pascal's mugging" (i.e. literally incredible moral blackmail):
It might not be immediately obvious to some readers why the ability to perform 1085 computational operations is a big deal. So it's useful to put it in context... it may take about 1031-1044 operations to simulate all neuronal operations that have occurred in the history of life on Earth.

Alternatively, let us suppose that the computers are used to run human whole brain emulations that live rich and happy lives while interacting with one another in virtual environments. A typical estimate of the computational requirements for running one emulation is 1018 operations per second. To run an emulation for 100 subjective years would then require some 1027 operations. This would be mean that at least 1058 human lives could be created in emulation even with quite conservative assumptions about the efficiency of computronium. In other words, assuming that the observable universe is void of extraterrestrial civilizations, then what hangs in the balance is at least 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 human lives. If we represent all the happiness experienced during one entire such life with a single teardrop of joy, then the happiness of these souls could fill and refill the Earth's oceans every second, and keep doing so for a hundred billion billion millennia. It is really important that we make sure these truly are tears of joy

The sacrifice [by a superintelligence of all human life in the service of a greater moral good] looks even less appealing when we reflect that the superintelligence could realize a nearly-as-great good while sacrificing much less of our own potential well-being. Suppose that we agreed to allow almost the entire accessible universe to be converted into [instances of its goal] – everything except a small preserve, say the Milky Way, which would be set aside to accommodate our own needs. Then there would still be a hundred billion galaxies dedicated to the maximization of [goal]. But we would have one galaxy within which to create wonderful civilizations that could last for billions of years and in which humans and nonhuman animals could survive and thrive, and have the opportunity to develop into beatific posthuman spirits.

A [world unified into a political unit] with no more technological and intellectual capabilities than those possessed by contemporary humanity should be able to plot a course that leads reliably to the eventual realization of humanity’s astronomical capability potential. This could be achieved by investing in relatively safe methods of increasing wisdom and existential risk-savvy, while postponing the development of potentially dangerous new technologies.

Given that non-anthropogenic existential risks (ones not arising from human activities) are small over the relevant timescales — and could be further reduced with various safe interventions — such a singleton could afford to go slow. It could look carefully before each step, delaying development of capabilities such as synthetic biology, human enhancement medicine, molecular nanotechnology, and machine intelligence until it had first perfected seemingly less hazardous capabilities such as its education system, its information technology, and its collective decision-making processes, and until it had used these capabilities to conduct a very thorough review of its options. So this is all within the indirect reach of a technological civilization like that of contemporary humanity. We are separated from this scenario “merely” by the fact that humanity is currently neither a singleton nor in the relevant sense wise.

Will the best in human nature please stand up

Before the prospect of an intelligence explosion, we humans are like small children playing with a bomb. Such is the mismatch between the power of our plaything and the immaturity of our conduct. Superintelligence is a challenge for which we are not ready now and will not be ready for a long time. We have little idea when the detonation will occur, though if we hold the device to our ear we can hear a faint ticking sound.

For a child with an undetonated bomb in its hands, a sensible thing to do would be to put it down gently, quickly back out of the room, and contact the nearest adult. Yet what we have here is not one child but many, each with access to an independent trigger mechanism. The chances that we will all find the sense to put down the dangerous stuff seem almost negligible. Some little idiot is bound to press the ignite button just to see what happens. Nor can we attain safety by running away, for the blast of an intelligence explosion would bring down the firmament. Nor is there a grown-up in sight...

This is not a prescription of fanaticism. The intelligence explosion might still be many decades off in the future. Moreover, the challenge we face is, in part, to hold on to our humanity: to maintain our groundedness, common sense, and goodhumored decency even in the teeth of this most unnatural and inhuman problem. We need to bring all human resourcefulness to bear on its solution.

Yet let us not lose track of what is globally significant. Through the fog of trivialities, we can perceive - if but dimly - the essential task of our age. In this book, we have attempted to discern a little more feature in what is otherwise still a relatively amorphous and negatively defined vision—one that presents as our principal moral priority (at least from an impersonal and secular perspective) the reduction of existential risk and the attainment of a civilizational trajectory that leads to a compassionate and jubilant use of humanity’s cosmic endowment.