I’ve been thinking about Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) and the future of human and transhuman intelligence since I was 4 or 5 years old and first encountered such ideas in SF novels. As time went on my thinking veered from the purely speculative and futuristic to the practical and engineering-oriented; in the last two decades the pursuit of real-world AGI systems in the here and now has been the central theme of my career (most recently largely via the OpenCog project). But I’ve never taken my eye off the broader potential AGI holds, and its connection to various other aspects of current and future life – i.e. to almost anything you can think of!
I thoroughly believe that the transition from human intelligence to transhuman artificial intelligence is going to be far huger than any transformation in the history of humanity – more akin to the transition from bacteria to humans, or from rocks to bacteria, if one wants to draw historical analogies. In the shorter term, there will be plenty of dramatic implications for human society and psychology. And in the longer term, the implications will go way, way beyond anything we can imagine. Both the shorterterm and longer-term implications are amazing and exciting to think about.
During the period 2009-2011, when I had a bit more time for writing than I do now, I wrote a series of essays for H+ Magazine – the online zine I co-edit– on the future of AGI, the Singularity and related topics. While these don’t exactly flow together like chapters of a single-focused book, they do preoccupy with a common set of themes and present a coherent point of view. So I have gathered them here together in a single volume, along with a handful of non-H+-Mag essays from the same period – a couple that were published elsewhere, and a couple that languished on my hard drive unpublished till now.
Worth noting, perhaps, is that one thing this book DOESN’T contain is a detailed overview of my own work on AGI, which I’ve described in a variety of technical works before, and which is currently centered on the OpenCog open source AGI platform. I’m currently (mid-2014) cooking a non-technical book called “Faster Than You Think” which will cover this ground. Various chapters here in “Ten Years…” do touch on aspects of my own work, but only here and there in passing – not in a systematic way. What this book DOES give, though, is a broad overview of the way I think about AGI in terms of its relationship with other futurist technologies, and the amazing future that AGI and these
technologies together are likely to bring to future humans and the future successors of humanity.
None of the essays collected here are technical. Some are very lightweight, at the level of a newspaper article. Some are more in-depth than that, at the level of a fairly intense pop-sci book or an article in a popular science magazine. It should all be readable by anyone with a couple years of university education in any field.
Some of the material here is “dated” in some respects – relative to mid-2014 when I’m writing this preface — but I haven’t made any effort to update it. By the time you’re reading this, 2014 may be long gone as well. The essays collected here make some points that transcend their time of writing; and they also may have some value as a record of how their topics were being thought about during the particular period 2009-2011. AGI is advancing rapidly; and thinking about the Singularity and the future of humanity and transhumanity is also advancing rapidly. Humanity’s thoughts about the (conceptually or calendrically) faroff future, written at a certain time, are generally at least as informative about the state of humanity at the time of writing, as they are about the far-off future.
Friedrich Nietzsche, in a draft preface for a book he planned to write with the title The Will to Power (different from the collectionof notes that was released posthumously under that title), described the book as
“A book for thinking, nothing else; it belongs to those for whom thinking is a delight, nothing else.”
The thoughts in this book are offered in a similar spirit. There is nothing definitive here. It’s all necessarily quite preliminary, because we are still in the early stages of creating AGI; and even though
we may be fairly close to a Technological Singularity in terms of calendar years, we have loads of technological, scientific and conceptual progress to pass through before we get there. All the matters discussed here are going to seem quite different when we get to Singularity Eve. But thinking through these topics, now– as I did in writing these essays; and as I invite you to do while reading them– is a critical part of the process of getting there.
The cover art for the book was done by Zarko Paunovic.