BT Futurist: AI entities will win Nobel prizes by 2020

In this interview, Pearson talks about his profession, explains why he doesn't think we will understand intelligent machines when they finally arise, and warns to the big ethical dilemmas our technological civilization will have to face sooner or later.

But as soon as machines become intelligent, according to Moore's Law they will soon surpass humans. By the way, BT's 2006 technology timeline predicts that AI entities will be awarded with Nobel prizes by 2020, and soon after robots will become mentally superior to humans. What comes after that: the super intelligence or God 2.0?

I think that I would certainly still go along with those time frames for superhuman intelligence, but I won't comment on God 2.0. I think that we still should expect a conscious computer smarter than people by 2020. I still see no reason why that it is not going to happen in that time frame. But I don't think we will understand it. The reason is because we don't even understand how some of the principal functions of consciousness should work.

I'll give you an example of it. In the early 1990s in the University of Sussex, there was an experiment to generate program to evolve the circuits to distinguish between different tones on a telephone circuit, allowing the circuits to work in different ways. And the circuits that the computer came up with worked in very different ways from those of people came up with. So, the computer doesn't use conventions that people use, but it came up with solutions that were more elegant and worked in very different ways. With even the simplest of systems it takes us a long time to try to figure out how they work, because they are so different from the way people would solve the same problems. Therefore, I don't think we will understand how these smart machines.

If you think they are capable of being much more intelligent than people, well, I agree with the logic that they are cleverer in designing cleverer things. But they will get very, very clever. It's kind of like a hamster trying to understand a human being. They can't simply understand the problem. How could they possibly think in the same way? It's like as if a human being is compared with an alien intelligence, which is hundreds of millions of times smarter. We don't have the right capabilities to start thinking in the same way. So, we put machines winning Nobel Prizes in our technology timeline, because we got good reasons to do that. You see, most of us, even if we like to think that we are reasonably intelligent, most of us are not capable of doing something so wonderful to get a Nobel Prize. And we wouldn't expect to be able to understand all the essays or readings that a Nobel Prize is capable or not, because maybe these smarter guys work in a different level of the rest of us. How could we possibly understand it? With computers will be pretty much the same sometime in the not very far future.

In this context, can we consider today's Second Life as some kind of "The Matrix" 1.0, being the real Matrix a combination with Second Life and artificial intelligence?

That's an interesting way of looking at it. I never thought of it in those terms. I don't really think we can. Although both "The Matrix" and Second Life are about socialization, Second Life is an imaginary world where we can inhabit it, but the key difference is that people are very aware of being there; and in "The Matrix" the key thing in the movie wasn't too much that it was a virtual environment where people didn't know that they were in there. I don't think Second Life would ever evolve into a place where people weren't aware that they are online. I think people will always be able to distinguish between being connected in an imaginary world and when they're actually in real life. We will always be able to distinguish real life from imaginary life. That's the key difference between "The Matrix" and Second Life.

But certainly we can adapt the concept of Second Life from simple virtual environments and we could add full sensory capabilities to that, so we can make it something completely convincing. In that regard a future version of that thing could be very like The Matrix, and then we could have "Second Life meets Total Recall." It's a bit like "The Matrix" then, where you have a very large environment with people connected together with a very convincing level of reality.

It seems like the holographic deck of "Star Trek," isn't it?

Yeah, the holodeck on "Star Trek" was a bit like the future capabilities of virtual environments. You know, we were looking into that sort of future, so in 2020 we should be able to induce sensations, we should be able to report sensations and replace sensations. Then we can do something with approximate to Star Trek's holodeck or Total Recall, and we could have something a little bit like "Matrix," or a Second Life 10.0. I think the future is converging to most of those things; rather than Second Life a metaphor we pretty like to use is the one which is "The Sims," the game with its imaginary characters interacting with each other. They are not humans but they interact with each other. With the arriving of artificial intelligence, we could end up with some of "The Sims" features with real conscience. That will be a very interesting situation, when you will have an imaginary civilization living imaginary lives with a human point of view. For the members of those civilizations it will be quite real, and they will have their real existence within the network, within cyberspace.

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