Don't worry, it's a tattooOkay, time to summarise two essays written by Vernor Vinge and Nick Bostrom, on two different aspects of artificial intelligence. Vinge’s piece from 1993 dicsusses the evolution of artificial intelligence and the coming ‘singularity’. Bostrom’s argument from 2002 centres around our existence in a computer simulation. The propositions are both interesting, if a little extreme at times. Here, I’ll shorten them down into a bite-sized outline.


The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era

Vernor Vinge of San Diego State University believes that superhuman artifical intelligence will be developed “Within Thirty Years”, or ten years as of 2013. It seems plausible, since we have managed to technologically advance with gigantic leaps in the seventeen years since this essay was written. However, Vinge is skeptical about the effects this will have upon humanity. He is certain that our species (as we know it, at least) will shortly come to an end once superhuman intelligence has been invented. If our brains are changed, even replaced with the technology to heighten our intelligence, we will no longer be natural humans but a new breed altogether. Even if we simply bond with the technology outside our skin, we may become dependent and form a new humanity. Otherwise, it may be possible that the technology gains sentience and becomes a superhuman species separate to humans. According to Vinge, at least one of these possiblities will very likely happen after superhuman intelligence is created. At this point, we have entered the posthuman stage.

This future has been referred to as the technological singularity, a stage in computer development when changes happen so rapidly that it will become harder to determine the future of technology. This rapidly increasing speed will make the process quicker to develop artificial intelligence beyond human intelligence. Afterwards, the technology could “wake up” to fully realise its environment and potential. Vinge believes that it is possible to control the singularity to save humanity, and aid our species instead of its eradication. We may still become a posthuman species, but we could work toegther with the superhuman technology for good. Especially if the artificial intelligence is bonded with our own, we can at least control our minds and develop a superhuman race with advanced mental capabilities beyond any that exist now.

However, immortality is likely to be achieved in the same instance. If our brains are augmented with artificial intelligence, the rest of the body would certainly not be a limit. Bones and muscles could be replaced when needed, to extend life limitlessly. It could be possible that the only true human parts in this posthuman species is the brain and reproductive organs, the rest becomes synthetic throughout life. At this moment in time, it seems extremely unlikely and not very attractive anyway. However, the future can lead towards plenty of similar possibilities, according to Vernor Vinge.


Are You Living in a Computer Similation?

Nick Bostrom focuses on computer simulations, similar to one of the central plots in the 1999 film The Matrix: Our perception on reality is actually run by computers, and our real selves are comatosed while ‘dreaming’ about this virtual reality. Bostrom’s essay argues that one of three possibilities is true: Humanity will become extinct before reaching a posthuman stage, a posthuman stage will not depend on simulations, or we are currently living in a computer simulation. If the latter situation is the case, then our ancestors have technologically developed beyond our civilisation, so we are living in some form of their past. Or magic exists and we’re under the mind control of powerful wizards.

There could easily be one person in a simulation and every other lifeform is digital, although multiple subjects could be situated in entirely different similations. Otherwise, multiple people could be living in the same simulation and anywhere between two and six billion people here are real. However, this requires the brain to accept and process the technology needed to form a simulation. Bostrom describes this as “mental states [that] can supervene on any of a broad class of physical substrates”. If the mind can be taken over by the necessary technology, which is possible to create, then we can live in a simulation. In turn, it is possible that at least one person in this world is under mental control of computers. The rest is set out like the coding and visuals of a highly sophisticated video game.

Otherwise, we are the true reality and humanity has yet to develop simulation software. This technology will most likely be created in the posthuman stage, tying into the previous essay by Vernor Vinge. Once our species has been replaced with the aid of computers, we may have the intelligence to program the simulation. However, it is easy possible that we will never reach a posthuman stage or the posthumans will never be interested in building simulations. As a result, Nick Bostrom concludes that it is highly unlikely that humanity will ever develop computer simulations, but we could be in one right now.


Now to answer some questions…

1. Are both the ideas described in the articles outlandish and will never happen, or have never happened?

I believe that humanity may one day reach a posthuman stage, if the technology develops far enough before we become extinct. Many humans already have technologicall advanced components in their bodies, such as pacemakers and artifical organs. Once the intelligence of computers surpasses the human brain, it may be a few decades before it is implemented into the brain. I do not believe that computer simulations will ever be used on comatosed humans. It may not be entirely possible to achieve, even if a hyperrealistic world is ever created. The ethical values also come into question, let alone anybody’s true interest into the subject.

2. The singularity is something that we should all strive for as humans have been built to always want to progress.

The stage where technology develops so fast that it becomes hard to predict will most likely happen soon. It seems inevitable, to say the least. It may lead to interesting possibilities and the eventual development of artificial intelligence that surpasses the human brain. As long as the intelligence cannot develop a full perspective and rebel, they would be extremely useful.

3. Our worlds are already full of small simulations, so the natural progression to immerse ourselves in one is a logical step.

It doesn’t sound like a great investment or solution to any problem to develop these types of computer simulations. I would fully support a completely immersive experience into a different world, but never to fully replace somebody’s perspective. In some ways I would like to see simulations develop further, but not to such an extreme level.

4. What is artificial intelligence, and will this naturally lead to the singularity or is there another way?

Artificial intelligence is a form of computer that can understand and reacts to its environment. It is able to percieve information instead of the dependence from a human to send it. It can then process and analyse for form its own conclusion from logic. More sophisticated forms can also learn and make better conclusions in the future. As I said before, reaching the singularity can easily happen by the processes being used now. The development of artificial intelligence would be a main factor in rapid technological development, but it is not the only element.

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