Humans have always imagined creating agents that will accomplish different tasks in the world. From the creation of the Turing Test that explained what a machine needed to accomplish for it to be deemed intelligent, Artificial Intelligence came a long way. Intelligent agents are now part of our everyday life: we have virtual assistants such as Siri, translation software such as Google Translate, and applications of computer Vision such as Google Lens. Humanity can be proud of the progress it has made in terms of AI. However, we are still in the era of weak AI or narrow AI, which are agents that can accomplish one specific task extremely well and perform very badly at others. Weak AI is far from the Artificial Intelligence depicted in movies such as Terminator or Matrix, an intelligence capable of emulating and even surpassing human feats. Such AI is called Artificial General Intelligence(AGI) or strong AI. It will be able to understand and learn any intellectual task a human being can.
In this article, we are going to explore the current impressions about AGI. What will it be capable of? What do the experts think about it? When is it going to be attained?
THE CAPABILITIES OF AGI
There are still some disagreements among researchers about what would constitute an AGI. However, there is a consensus on the fact that an AGI should have human-like and flexible reasoning-this means the capacity to learn from real life experiences, without the massive amount of data needed to develop weak AI. These machines will also be able to apply their knowledge to different scenarios, just like humans. For example, an AGI can be taught French, and will be able to use this experience to learn any other similar language by itself.
AGI will also be able to excel at a multitude of tasks. It would have the capacity to recognize people in pictures such as Google Photos, but it will also be able to play chess, read scientific papers, converse naturally with humans, etc.
According to American inventor Ray Kurzweil, AGI will quickly surpass human intelligence and skill. Unlike the human brain, AGI won’t be limited by the space of the skull. AGI will have access to thousands of servers around the world, making it learn and solve problems extremely fast. This exponential intelligence may allow humanity to solve its biggest problems such as cancer, climate change, inequality. Employing an AGI may be equivalent to having the brightest minds on the planet working for you, which is an appealing prospect financially and timewise.
SKEPTICALITY AROUND AGI
Many people are scared of what the development of AI will bring. Our view of Artificial General Intelligence was mainly shaped by movies such as Terminator which show machines eradicating and enslaving humans. Do we know if these scenarios will happen? No, because we do not even know how to create such machines.
Leaders have already warned about the development of Artificial intelligence. SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk calls Artificial General Intelligence the “biggest existential threat” facing humanity and the late Professor Stephen Hawking told the BBC that “the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race”. Philosopher and director of Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute Nick Bostrom described AI as a bomb waiting to be detonated by irresponsible research. Are their fears justified? There are clearly uncertainties about how AGI will function.
Will such AI have values or morality? Vyacheslav W. Polonski of the Oxford Internet Institute argues that before an AGI acquires morality, people would first have to codify exactly what morality is. Codifying morality is no easy feat though: different cultures have different views on what they see as moral. Universal codes of morality such as the United Declaration of Human Rights may be a good starting point.
AGI will also need to be regulated. This task may be impossible knowing how complex those systems may be. Experts are still pondering about the functionality of neural networks, which are likely less complex than future Artificial General Intelligence. How can you regulate a system you do not understand properly? Humanity will have to find an answer. Moreover, who would control this kind of intelligence? A single government? The UN? Tech companies that created it? Tech companies are likely to understand the technology better than governments. But we may not want them to gain that much power, knowing that their monopoly on data is already questioned.
AGI may also endanger human labor. How would humans compete against this exceptional intelligence? Thousands of people may lose their jobs to AI. The need for tech specialists may dramatically increase-indeed, we need humans to keep the AGIs working. They may be a bigger disparity in job availability but we do not expect humans to completely be useless.
WHEN WILL IT COME?
AGI is currently researched by a multitude of research centers throughout the world. These researchers strive to emulate the functioning of the human brain in a machine. This is not an easy feat knowing how much we still need to learn about the human brain. The development of new technology such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fmri) will definitely be a plus in this search for AGI.
In spite of the difficulties creating an Artificial General Intelligence present, most researchers are optimistic about its apparition. Many experts believe that AGI will be a reality in the next decades. Some experts such as Ray Kurzweil have more precise estimates: he believes that we are going to accomplish AGI by 2040.
Some experts advise that we focus on the challenges our world already faces, and stop thinking about some hypothetical Artificial General Intelligence. Chris Bishop, laboratory director at Microsoft Research Cambridge, has said discussions about artificial general intelligences rising up are “utter nonsense”, adding that those discussions are still decades away. Andrew Ng, a prominent figure in the AI field, called out on experts to “cut out the AGI nonsense” and focus on how technology is exacerbating problems such as job losses, discrimination, wealth inequality.
The usefulness of AGI is still a heated debate although we do not know when this kind of intelligence will be attained(if it is ever attained). The creation of an AGI will definitely change the world, for better or for worse.