Re: What best evidence for fast AI?

From: Robin Hanson (
Date: Sun Nov 11 2007 - 12:10:33 MST

At 05:48 PM 11/10/2007, Eliezer S. Yudkowsky wrote:
The anchor that I start with is my rough estimate of how long whole brain emulation will take, and so I'm most interesting in comparing AGI to that anchor.  The fact that people are prone to take these estimate questions as attitude surveys is all the more reason to seek concrete arguments, rather than yet more attitudes.

If you want to compare AGI *relative* to whole brain emulation - unanchoring the actual time and hence tossing any pretense of futuristic prophecy out the window - then that's a whole separate story.

Well to the extent that I do think we have grounds for rough estimates of emulation dates, comparative estimates for AGI would allow date estimates for AGI as well. 

I would begin by asking if there was ever, in the whole history of technology, a single case where someone *first* duplicated a desirable effect by emulating biology at a lower level of organization, without understanding the principles of that effect's production from that low level of organization.

I know of no important cases, but we do often emulate non-biological systems this way, when they are complex and we mainly care about computed I/O behavior.   We record musics and movies, and we port software.   We also often "reverse-engineer" physical devices by copying complex designs we don't fully understand.  Organizations also often copy procedures from other organizations they don't understand.   I agree that a lack of biological examples should give us pause, but have we ever really wanted to reproduce the I/O behavior of complex biological software before?

Looking at history, we find two lessons:

1)  Extremely mysterious-seeming desirable natural phenomena are eventually understood and duplicated by engineering;
2)  Because they have ceased to be mysterious by the time they are duplicated, humans design them by engineering backward from the desired results, rather than by exactly emulating the lower levels of organization of a black box in Nature whose mysteriousness remains intact even as it is emulated.

Cars don't emulate horse biochemistry, sonar doesn't emulate bat biochemistry, compasses don't emulate pigeon biochemistry, suspension bridges don't emulate spider biochemistry, dams don't emulate beaver building techniques, and *certainly* none of these things emulate biology *without understanding why the resulting product works*.

But again, these aren't examples of trying to reproduce complex computed I/O behavior. 

Robin Hanson
Research Associate, Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University
Associate Professor of Economics, George Mason University
MSN 1D3, Carow Hall, Fairfax VA 22030-4444
703-993-2326  FAX: 703-993-2323

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