Re: Seed AI (was: How hard a Singularity?)

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Wed Jun 26 2002 - 10:35:31 MDT

Ben Goertzel wrote:
> The point I was making, though, is that
> 1) von Neumann seems based on all reports to have had more of the surface
> signs of "super high intelligence" than Einstein. He was a lightning
> calculator, mastered new areas of science immediately, could speak with
> great precision and complexity and insight on nearly any topic, etc.
> For instance, Jeff Pressing, a friend who recently passed away prematurely,
> was just an AMAZINGLY smart guy. He spoke a dozen languages, could play 10
> people simultaneously at chess while blindfolded (and quite well), could
> solve really tough differential equations in his head rapidly, was a master
> of several instruments and extremely good at nearly all the others (not only
> orchestral instruments but West African drums of various sorts, etc. etc.).
> Sometimes it scared me how smart this guy was. Yet as a scientist he was
> merely *very good*. I've met other scientists who didn't seem "as
> intelligent" as Jeff yet had accomplished significantly more in terms of
> scientific discovery.

"Smartness is that quality which makes it impossible to write a story about
a character smarter than you are. You can write about super-fast thinkers,
eidetic memories, lightning calculators; a character who learns a dozen
languages in a week, who can read a textbook in an hour, or who can invent
all kinds of wonderful stuff - as long as you don't have to produce the
actual invention. But you can't write a character with a higher level of
emotional maturity, a character who can spot the obvious solution you
missed, a character who knows (and can tell the reader) the Meaning Of Life,
a character with superhuman self-awareness. Not unless you can do these
things yourself."
        -- Eliezer Yudkowsky, "Staring into the Singularity"

If your reason for designating von Neumann as a "greater genius" than
Einstein was just the showoff lightning-calculator stuff, then I think we're
talking past each other. I don't consider that genius, or even relevant to
a discussion of intelligence, unless it contributes to actual smartness.

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky                
Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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