Books - Read and Enjoyed

Our Final Invention

Artifical Intelligence and the End of the Human Era

Thomas Dunne Books, 2013

James Barrat

James Barrat’s concern is that, once Artifical Intelligence (AI) has reached a human level, there will be an intelligence explosion resulting in a Artificial Super Intelligence (ASI) that surpasses human capabilities in all relevant aspects. What will be the fate of humanity if this happens? Will humans be allowed to coexist with this ASI?

James Barrat is a documentary filmmaker and he approaches the topic as a journalist. He reviews the positions of leading scientists in the area and interviews most of them.

Among many others the following experts and organization are presented:

  Throughout the book Barrat speculates where ASI may emerge. His candidates are

People always make the assumption that we’re done with search. That’ s very far from the case. We’ re probably only 5 percent of the way there. We want to create the ultimate search engine that can understand anything … some people could call that artificial intelligence.… The ultimate search engine would understand everything in the world. It would understand everything that you asked it and give you back the exact right thing instantly.… You could ask “ what should I ask Larry?” and it would tell you.

(cited from Barrat p. 40)

Historian George Dyson mused after a visit at Google:

For thirty years I have been wondering, what indication of its existence might we expect from a true AI? Certainly not any explicit revelation, which might spark a movement to pull the plug. Anomalous accumulation or creation of wealth might be a sign, or an unquenchable thirst for raw information, storage space, and processing cycles, or a concerted attempt to secure an uninterrupted, autonomous power supply. But the real sign, I suspect, would be a circle of cheerful, contented, intellectually and physically well-nourished people surrounding the AI. There wouldn’ t be any need for True Believers, or the downloading of human brains or anything sinister like that: just a gradual, gentle, pervasive and mutually beneficial contact between us and a growing something else. This remains a nontestable hypothesis, for now.

(cited from Barrat p 231)

Barrat’s book is a fascinating tour through the exciting landscape of AI research, and throughout reading one has the impression that we are heading towards truly exciting times; but the outlook is unpredictable and scary.

(AJ September 2021)