The Ethics of Superintelligence

Today, during my lunch, I watched a very interesting TED presentation from Nick Bostrom regarding machine intelligence and the difficult questions surrounding it. What I didn’t realize at the time was that Bostrom is a Philosopher more than an engineer. As a result, his talk ended up being about the ethical questions brought on by the potential of computer superintelligence.

Now, if you don’t have time to listen to the whole talk, I’ll just put the main points here for you:

  • Human Level Machine Intelligence is inevitable. We will reach it at some point in the future, and most estimates are that it will be reached before another century is completed.
  • Computers do not have the same physical limitations that human brains have. Transistors are faster than neurons. Interconnections are faster than neural connections. Moreover, computers are not limited to one skull at a time. Computers can be any size.
  • Therefore, once computers reach Human Level Intelligence, that will be the last invention ever made by humankind. All future innovation will happen faster and more efficiently by the computer intelligence itself. The snowball effect will be unstoppable.
  • Therefore, to avoid the potential dangers of a world like the Terminator or the Matrix, humans must now figure out a way to make computers value human life so that core human values are put into computers along with human intelligence.

The last point was the real point of his talk, but he said something very interesting while making that final point. He said that the big problem isn’t what we ask the computers to do for us. He said that we might ask a computer to help us find a solution for a specific math problem, but that the computer might decide that the best and most efficient way of solving that math problem is to cover the earth in more computers to work on the problem regardless of any impact that has on human life. Thinking only of efficiency, the computer is likely to do the very things we ask it to do in a way we don’t want it to, but because it is now superintelligent, we would be powerless to do anything to stop it.

Therefore, according to Bostrom’s view, the only way for humans to make sure the computers don’t do something we don’t want them to do is to make sure the computers share our values. In fact, he suggests that we look for ways to embed human values into the core of the computer so that when the computer becomes intelligent, it intrinsically seeks out solutions that share our own values.

All of a sudden, a light went on in my own mind.

The only way to create intelligence that doesn’t turn on you is to embed your values into it.

As a parent, there are all kinds of ways to apply this principle, but what really sparked in my mind is the simple truth that this is exactly the purpose of human existence on the earth right now… not for us to embed our values into something else but for God to embed his values into us!

Moses said…

(11) Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. (12) It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” (13) Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” (14) No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.

Deuteronomy 30:11-14 NIV

or in Ezekiel…

(18) “They will return to it and remove all its vile images and detestable idols. (19) I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. (20) Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God.

Ezekiel 11:18-20 NIV

or in Jeremiah

(33) “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.

Jeremiah 31:33 NIV

God’s work in this world was to put his word, his law, his worldview, his values into the hearts of his intelligent creatures so that they would use their intelligence in ways that stay in line with his own will. As a result of our own sinfulness, God’s ultimate plan was then to forgive sin through the death and resurrection of his Son and to “embed” his Spirit into our hearts so that we might have an inner sense of His own value system.

(5) Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. (6) The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. (7) The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. (8) Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

(9) You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. (10) But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. (11) And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

(12) Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. (13) For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

(14) For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.

Romans 8:5-14 NIV

Or in Galatians

(22) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, (23) gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (24) Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (25) Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

Galatians 5:22-25 NIV

God’s plan for us is not to coerce us into a narrow little system of life, but to embed himself and his own values into us so that we become free to blossom in our divinely created intelligence to do and to live in ways to make sense to us, exist in harmony with his plan, and bring us all great joy in the process.

Are you letting God embed his values into you?

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One thought on “The Ethics of Superintelligence

  1. Interesting video. I don’t buy-in to his last point, but it is a fun thought experiment. The fear of new technology has existed for a long time, yet we have a remarkable God-given ability to adapt and use the resources of this world.

    However I really like your point about embedding God’s values in our heart. You hinted at this, but a step further as parents is to instill these values in our children. When I look at my last month, I see ways I can definitely improve in this area. Thanks for sharing this post.

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