30th November 2004 - Robot: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind

In a matter of few days I was captivated by "Robot: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind" by Hans Moravec. I got the inspiration for reading Moravec’s work when reading "Why the future doesn't need us" by Bill Joy, and I have to say I was not disappointed.

As I expected fro the title Moravec spends a good time recapturing history of artificial intelligence and robotics as well as their contemporary states of art. Using a linear mindset it is not hard to imagine that future generations of robots will surpass anything we know today in terms of computing power per size and price unit; and in a slightly deeper future one would also be anticipating nano-scale engineering and quantum computing.

The effects of pure progress as we know it today but forwarded into the future opens a whole host of opportunities in it self; a significant impact on society in terms of ways of life: excess of leisure time, low cost of any goods in general a more prosperous world with solutions for many of the global problems we know today. However, it was the last two chapters that really caught my attention:

In these Moravec theorizes of the potential of artificial intelligence in the sense of what one would normally refer to as the mind or soul. Personally, having worked with artificial intelligence for more than a decade, I have always been a skeptic with regards to such pure intelligence in AI –and I probably still am. But the idea that "the ghost in the machine" would be able to be shaped by evolution just as much as by humans has a whole world of opportunities in itself.

One example is space exploration, the exploration and shaping of the universe; it does not seem unlikely that future generations of robots would be better suited than humans -and faster! Perhaps robots the size of a virus could be sent to the outskirts of the universe as we know it today; start harvesting, mining, building, shaping and finally call us back when the planet is ready for human visitors. With my knowledge today, I would be reluctant to dismiss that this could happen in this millennium…

If this above seems radical, consider this: the current stage of our research into time travel is in its infancy; yet theories like Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity suggests that speed of light as well as infinite matter should come into play if one considers traveling in time –or should we say beyond physical laws as we define them today(?) Whatever the definition, it seems easier to think of systems at nano- or quantum-scale to travel or work at the speed of light; perhaps simply encoding a message in light and allow the data to travel. Thinking about such exotic systems suddenly opens the possibility of creating output at the same time as the input is present, let alone faster than the input is present! –would we call artificial intelligence systems with these capabilities "a mind"? Whatever we would call such a form of intelligence, it would be surpassing anything we know today, but again I would be reluctant to dismiss that this could happen one day…

It takes one life of development to foster mind children of humans; that is children that not only take over our form but also our knowledge and behavior. The mind children of intelligent robots can be born at the speed of download; at the current pace of development robots could have the same potential for intelligence as humans in 2020 in terms of computation power, yet my guess is that it will only be through radical new concepts of computing that such artificial intelligence can be an "unequivalent" mind compared to humans, but a new type of mind that will leave as unprecedented footprints in and on the world as humans…

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Updated 2003-11-30

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