As some of you may know, I am now publishing a weekly substack of articles I’ve found interesting on the net and in some cases offering some summary commentary. In an unprecedented move, the kind of once in a 1,000 year event that could never have been predicted, I’m now publishing the odd sample up here on Troppo for general delectation.
Like this one.
They may be philosophers, but some of the effective altruism folks have a very ‘boys own’ idea of how the world works. As Eric Hoel argues in one of his many excellent essays, they haven’t taken on board the evolutionary forces from which intelligence emerged. In a nice turn of phrase, Hoel argues that their idea of ‘super-intelligence’ is deistic, not evolutionary.
The space of all problems is mostly stuff that human beings are really bad at, like picking out the same two color pixels on a TV screen (and three pixels triads, and so on). This scale or metric for intelligence fits perfectly with the deistic framework for intelligence, making it imaginable or at least definable that intelligence is a dial that can be turned up indefinitely.
In contrast, let’s now introduce the evolutionary framework. In this framework, intelligence is really about adapting to some niche portion of the massive state space of all possible problems. Its inspiration is On the Origin of Species, the closing of which I’ll quote in full because it’s such a wonderful paragraph:
Contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. …
In the evolutionary framework different intelligences live together on a tangled bank. … This is pretty much the way our artificial intelligences live together right now. One AI to fly the plane, another AI to filter spam from email, and so on. The evolutionary framework of intelligence doesn’t really allow for a superintelligence.