Ultimate Potential of SI versus HI/>HI

Doug Bailey (Doug.Bailey@ey.com)
Mon, 14 Sep 1998 16:51:32 -0400

All this talk about technological singularities has gotten me thinking about superintelligence (SI). All the normal issues came up about feasibility, nature, motivation and so on. I segmented singularity scenarios into ones where SIs were not developed and ones where SIs were developed. I thought such a distinction was meaningful but now I am not so sure.

I began to think about the ultimate potential of an SI versus that of a human-level intelligence (HI) or even an augmented human-level intelligence(>HI). A SI would be able to access copious amounts of information quickly, sort through the information with a selectivity that would make us envious, and employ a level of insight and creativity that would allow it to achieve "breakthroughts" many times faster than a HI. A SI's cognitive abilities might have traits we can not directly compare to those of HIs or >HIs. However, taken at face value, this seems to mean only that a SI would reach milestones at a faster rate. But would it reach more milestones in totality? Are there achievements, discoveries, insights, cognitive feats that a SI is capable of that a HI/>HI (or billions of HIs/>HIs) could not accomplish given enough time and resources?

An example is Einstein's General Theory of Relativity. If we could place a SI in a room in 1600 A.D. and supply it with all the available knowledge (especially physics) known to HIs at that point, e.g. the works of Brahe, Galileo, Copernicus, etc.), how long would it take the SI to develop the Calculus, discover the conservation of momentum, Newton's laws, and all the other insights necessary for it to develop Einstein's General Theory of Relativity? It would probably get the job done before 1915. However, HIs would be able to match the SI's feat, just through a longer, more tedious process. The SI might be more efficiently intelligent but not necessarily more profoundly intelligent.

So, could a SI discover something that a HI could not? Is the ultimate potential of a SI greater than that of HIs/>HIs? Frankly, my head starts to hurt when I think about these questions. It would exceedingly hard to absolutely indentify something a SI could do that we could not since the feat would be so entirely beyond our minds that mere identification would be impossible. The feat would have to be beyond the wildest limits we can imagine. While we don't know how to engineer at Planck length scales, we don't know for certain that we will never be able to do soor that SIs will most certainly be able to do so. I can't think of anything I know we will never be able to do that a SI could do. I can't think of an insight that a SI might have that, given enough time and coaching, that we could fathom or achieve. The SI in the example above might be talking about relativity to Isaac Newton and friends, who might think the whole idea is nonsense / blasphemy or what have you. But eventually someone would "get it".

This might seem like anthropic hubris on my part. The idea that since I can't think of something that a SI could accomplish that HIs could not acomplish given enough time might seem prideful. However, barring some fundamental limitation due to the way HIs think or process information that would inihibit us from understanding some particular SI insight, it seems that anything a SI knows we could eventually know. This is all a rather long-winded prelude to my idea of "virtual SI".


Are we SIs? This question might seem silly but I'm serious. To answer this question we need a definition of intelligence. Not being a cognitive expert, I attempted to find this definition. Unfortunately, there seems to be a lack of consensus. I'll struggle through this question anyway hoping the cognition cogniscienti will supplement and revise my comments where necessary.

Nick Bostrom defined superintelligence in his paper "How Long Before Superintelligence?" at http://www.hedweb.com/nickb/superintelligence.htm thusly:

By a "superintelligence" we mean an intellect that is much smarter than the best human brains in practically every field, including scientific creativity, general wisdom and social skills.

If I handed this definition to a philosopher in Roman times and then asked him to devise a test for some of the list members on this list. Would the philosopher judge the answers given on this test to be those of SIs? The philosopher would see selective cognitive ability far superior to his own. The list members would be extraordinarily efficient at solving problems and filtering through data by using the scientific method and other cognitive tools devised between Roman times and now. What if the list members were able to use their laptops for the test? The philosopher might scratch his head as he sees the answers to multiplication problems involving 90 digit numbers (not to mention no apparent calculations). [He'd probably also wonder where the list members got those suped-up abaci from]. The philosopher might well conclude the list members were possessed with scientific creativity, wisdom, knowledge, and cognitive tools of a superintelligence.

The ability to accumulate knowledge allows HIs as a collective to defy individual HI resource limitations such as time, memory, and processing speed. Einstein "downloaded" the knowledge of others before him and used his scientific creativity to make his breakthrough insights. The accumulation of knowledge allowed Einstein to perform a feat in 1915 that only an SI might have been able to perform in the 1700s.

Stepping back further in time we see the "Virtual SI" concept more clearly. The hunter-gatherers of 20,000 B.C.E. would consider us "gods". Our motivations would seem totally alien to them. Our thinking, our feats, our accomplishments the stuff of legend. If they were armed with the defintion of superintelligence and could understand it they'd consider us SIs also.

I admit this "Virtual SI" idea is empirically weak. I've not developed it much beyond what you see here. However, the idea works in concert with my wanderings about the "ultimate potential" issue. [Warning: question barrage to ensue]. Should we redefine SI as being something beyond what HIs can ever dream of reaching? Otherwise, would not a transhuman that had been uploaded with the complete corpus of human knowledge available in short-term memory, highly optimized cognition filtering algorithms, and creativity algorithms be considered by us to be a SI? Where does the partition between >HI and SI exist? At what point do the changes we make to the neural net of a >HI render it something other than "human"?

[Note: My apologies for the less-than-stellar organization but I wrote this in one pass. If I had waited and posted it after I had time to optimize it, it would have never seen the light of day.]

Doug Bailey