STEPHEN WOLFRAM, distinguished scientist, inventor, author, and business leader, is Founder & CEO, Wolfram Research; Creator, Mathematica, Wolfram|Alpha & the Wolfram Language; Author, A New Kind of Science. Stephen Wolfram's Edge Bio PageUm, no pop-up books actually, I seem to be regressing, rapidly.
THE REALITY CLUB: Nicholas Carr, Ed Regis
What makes us different from all these things? What makes us different is the particulars of our history, which gives us our notions of purpose and goals. That's a long way of saying when we have the box on the desk that thinks as well as any brain does, the thing it doesn't have, intrinsically, is the goals and purposes that we have. Those are defined by our particulars—our particular biology, our particular psychology, our particular cultural history.
The thing we have to think about as we think about the future of these things is the goals. That's what humans contribute, that's what our civilization contributes—execution of those goals; that's what we can increasingly automate. We've been automating it for thousands of years. We will succeed in having very good automation of those goals. I've spent some significant part of my life building technology to essentially go from a human concept of a goal to something that gets done in the world.
There are many questions that come from this. For example, we've got these great AIs and they're able to execute goals, how do we tell them what to do?...
AI & THE FUTURE OF CIVILIZATION
Some tough questions. One of them is about the future of the human condition. That's a big question. I've spent some part of my life figuring out how to make machines automate stuff. It's pretty obvious that we can automate many of the things that we humans have been proud of for a long time. What's the future of the human condition in that situation?
More particularly, I see technology as taking human goals and making them able to be automatically executed by machines. The human goals that we've had in the past have been things like moving objects from here to there and using a forklift rather than our own hands. Now, the things that we can do automatically are more intellectual kinds of things that have traditionally been the professions' work, so to speak. These are things that we are going to be able to do by machine. The machine is able to execute things, but something or someone has to define what its goals should be and what it's trying to execute.
People talk about the future of the intelligent machines, and whether intelligent machines are going to take over and decide what to do for themselves. What one has to figure out, while given a goal, how to execute it into something that can meaningfully be automated, the actual inventing of the goal is not something that in some sense has a path to automation.
How do we figure out goals for ourselves? How are goals defined? They tend to be defined for a given human by their own personal history, their cultural environment, the history of our civilization. Goals are something that are uniquely human. It's something that almost doesn't make any sense. We ask, what's the goal of our machine? We might have given it a goal when we built the machine.
The thing that makes this more poignant for me is that I've spent a lot of time studying basic science about computation, and I've realized something from that. It's a little bit of a longer story, but basically, if we think about intelligence and things that might have goals, things that might have purposes, what kinds of things can have intelligence or purpose? Right now, we know one great example of things with intelligence and purpose and that's us, and our brains, and our own human intelligence. What else is like that? The answer, I had at first assumed, is that there are the systems of nature. They do what they do, but human intelligence is far beyond anything that exists naturally in the world. It's something that's the result of all of this elaborate process of evolution. It's a thing that stands apart from the rest of what exists in the universe. What I realized, as a result of a whole bunch of science that I did, was that is not the case.
My children always give me a hard time for this particular quote: "The weather has a mind of its own." Well, that's an animistic type of statement, and it seems like it has no place in modern scientific thinking. But that statement is not as silly as it first seems. What that's representing is, if we think about a brain—what is a brain doing? A brain is taking certain input, it's computing things, it's causing certain actions to happen; it's effectively generating a certain output.
We can think about all sorts of systems as effectively doing computations, whether it's a brain, whether it's a cloud responding to the different thermal environment that it finds itself in. We can ask ourselves, are our brains doing vastly more sophisticated computations than happens in these fluids in the atmosphere?
I had first assumed that the answer to that was, yes, we are carefully evolved, we're doing much more sophisticated stuff than any of these systems in nature. But it turns out that's not the case. It turns out that there's this very broad equivalence between the kinds of computations that different kinds of systems do. That realization makes the question of the human condition a little bit more poignant, because where we might say, "There's one thing we've got—we're special, we've got all this intelligence and all these things which nothing else can have." But that's not true. There are all these different systems of nature that are pretty much equivalent in terms of their computational, or for that matter, intellectual, capabilities....MUCH MORE including audio, video, pop-up books...
Previously on the Edge channel:
"The Man Who Runs The World's Smartest Website"
Edge Magazine's Master Class In Forecasting With Phillip Tetlock
Edge.org Conversation on the Work of Daniel Kahneman
"187 Big Thinkers Answer the Question: What Do You Think About Machines That Think?"
J. CRAIG VENTER: THE BIOLOGICAL-DIGITAL CONVERTER, OR, BIOLOGY AT THE SPEED OF LIGHT @ THE EDGE DINNER IN TURIN
Science/Not Science: Crusading Against Multiple Regression Analysis
Brian Eno: "Just A New Fractal Detail In The Big Picture"