A few hundred thousand years ago, in early human (or hominid) prehistory, growth was so slow that it took on the order of one million years for human productive capacity to increase sufficiently to sustain an additional one million individuals living at subsistence level. By 5000 BC, following the Agricultural Revolution, the rate of growth had increased to the point where the same amount of growth took just two centuries. Today, following the Industrial Revolution, the world economy grows on average by that amount every ninety minutes.

If another such transition to a different growth mode were to occur, and it were of similar magnitude to the previous two, it would result in a new growth regime in which the world economy would double in size about every two weeks.

Let an ultraintelligent machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the intellectual activities of any man however clever. Since the design of machines is one of these intellectual activities, an ultraintelligent machine could design even better machines; there would then unquestionably be an “intelligence explosion,” and the intelligence of man would be left far behind. Thus the first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make, provided that the machine is docile enough to tell us how to keep it under control.

To overcome the combinatorial explosion, one needs algorithms that exploit structure in the target domain and take advantage of prior knowledge by using heuristic search, planning, and flexible abstract representations—capabilities that were poorly developed in the early AI systems.

There are some 4–6×10 30 prokaryotes in the world today, but only 1019 insects, and fewer than 1010 humans (while pre-agricultural populations were orders of magnitude smaller). 9 These numbers are only moderately intimidating.

First, a sufficiently detailed scan of a particular human brain is created. This might involve stabilizing the brain post-mortem through vitrification (a process that turns tissue into a kind of glass).

Before we would get things to work perfectly, we would probably get things to work imperfectly.

Far from being the smartest possible biological species, we are probably better thought of as the stupidest possible biological species capable of starting a technological civilization—a niche we filled because we got there first, not because we are in any sense optimally adapted to it.

(The characteristic frequency of a system tends to be inversely proportional to its length scale.

Light is roughly a million times faster than a jet plane, so it would take a digital agent with a mental speedup of 1,000,000× about the same amount of subjective time to travel across the globe as it does a contemporary human journeyer.

Dialing somebody long distance would take as long as getting there “in person,” though it would be cheaper as a call would require less bandwidth. Agents with large mental speedups who want to converse extensively might find it advantageous to move near one another. Extremely fast minds with need for frequent interaction (such as members of a work team) may take up residence in computers located in the same building to avoid frustrating latencies.

We can think of wisdom as the ability to get the important things approximately right.

This observation suggests the idea of possible but non-realized cognitive talents, talents that no actual human possesses even though other intelligent systems—ones with no more computing power than the human brain—that did have those talents would gain enormously in their ability to accomplish a wide range of strategically relevant tasks.

Superintelligence in any of these forms could, over time, develop the technology necessary to create any of the others.

one can speculate that the tardiness and wobbliness of humanity’s progress on many of the “eternal problems” of philosophy are due to the unsuitability of the human cortex for philosophical work.

On this view, our most celebrated philosophers are like dogs walking on their hind legs—just barely attaining the threshold level of performance required for engaging in the activity at all.

to achieve a round-trip latency of less than 10 ms between any two elements in a system, biological brains must be smaller than 0.11 m3. An electronic system, on the other hand, could be 6.1×1017 m3, about the size of a dwarf planet: eighteen orders of magnitude larger.

Visual perception seems to us easy and effortless, quite unlike solving textbook geometry problems—this despite the fact that it takes a massive amount of computation to reconstruct, from the two-dimensional patterns of stimulation on our retinas, a three-dimensional representation of a world populated with recognizable objects. The reason this seems easy is that we have dedicated low-level neural machinery for processing visual information. This low-level processing occurs unconsciously and automatically, without draining our mental energy or conscious attention. Music perception, language use, social cognition, and other forms of information processing that are “natural” for us humans seem to be likewise supported by dedicated neurocomputational modules.

An artificial mind that had such specialized support for other cognitive domains that have become important in the contemporary world—such as engineering, computer programming, and business strategy—would have big advantages over minds like ours that have to rely on clunky general-purpose cognition to think about such things.

On a grander scale, the human species took tens of thousands of years to spread across most of the globe, the Agricultural Revolution thousands of years, the Industrial Revolution only hundreds of years, and an Information Revolution could be said to have spread globally over the course of decades—though, of course, these transitions are not necessarily of equal profundity. (The Dance Dance Revolution video game spread from Japan to Europe and North America in just one year!)

(Note that the concept of a singleton is an abstract one: a singleton could be democracy, a tyranny, a single dominant AI, a strong set of global norms that include effective provisions for their own enforcement, or even an alien overlord—its defining characteristic being simply that it is some form of agency that can solve all major global coordination problems. It may, but need not, resemble any familiar form of human governance.

Humans and human-run organizations may also operate with decision processes that do not seek to maximize expected utility. For example, they may allow for fundamental risk aversion, or “satisficing” decision rules that focus on meeting adequacy thresholds, or “deontological” side-constraints that proscribe certain kinds of action regardless of how desirable their consequences. Human decision makers often seem to be acting out an identity or a social role rather than seeking to maximize the achievement of some particular objective.

licit or illicit

If we represent all the happiness experienced during one entire such life with a single teardrop of joy, then the happiness of these souls could fill and refill the Earth’s oceans every second, and keep doing so for a hundred billion billion millennia. It is really important that we make sure these truly are tears of joy.

A population of such agents might operate more like a “functional soup” than a society composed of distinct semi-permanent persons. 9 For some purposes, processes in such a system might be better individuated as teleological threads, based on their values, rather than on the basis of bodies, personalities, memories, or abilities. In such scenarios, goal-continuity might be said to constitute a key aspect of survival.

this fact fails to provide any strong general instrumental reasons to iron out all probabilistic incoherency. Agents who do not expect to encounter savvy bookies, or who adopt a general policy against betting, do not necessarily stand to lose much from having some incoherent beliefs—and they may gain important benefits of the types mentioned: reduced cognitive effort, social signaling, etc. There is no general reason to expect an agent to seek instrumentally useless forms of cognitive enhancement, as an agent might not value knowledge and understanding for their own sakes.

Even today, many AIs inhabit simulated worlds—worlds consisting of geometric line drawings, texts, chess games, or simple virtual realities, and in which the laws of physics deviate sharply from the laws of physics that we believe govern the world of our own experience.

“everything is vague to a degree you do not realize till you have tried to make it precise.”

There are many ways of deviating from the truth, and the oracles may not all agree on which of these deviations is most attractive—whereas the truth itself is a Schelling point (a salient place for agreement in the absence of communication).

It might not take many bits of communication for an AI with the social manipulation superpower to bend us to its will.

The ideal genie would be a super-butler rather than an autistic savant.

If, instead, “simply doing what it is programmed to do” means that the software behaves as the programmers intended, then this is a standard that ordinary software very often fails to meet.

The classical way of writing software requires the programmer to understand the task to be performed in sufficient detail to formulate an explicit solution process consisting of a sequence of mathematically well-defined steps expressible in code.

one search discovered a frequency discrimination circuit that functioned without a clock—a component normally considered necessary for this function. The researchers estimated that the evolved circuit was between one and two orders of magnitude smaller than what a human engineer would have required for the task. The circuit exploited the physical properties of its components in unorthodox ways; some active, necessary components were not even connected to the input or output pins!

Another search process, tasked with creating an oscillator, was deprived of a seemingly even more indispensible component, the capacitor. When the algorithm presented its successful solution, the researchers examined it and at first concluded that it “should not work.” Upon more careful examination, they discovered that the algorithm had, MacGyver-like, reconfigured its sensor-less motherboard into a makeshift radio receiver, using the printed circuit board tracks as an aerial to pick up signals generated by personal computers that happened to be situated nearby in the laboratory.

Consider, first, that many of the costly displays we find in nature are linked to sexual selection.

Once villainy has had an unguarded moment to sow its mines of deception, trust can never set foot there again.

This human principal would be like a demented king who reigns over an incompetent court that oversees a mediocre administration which governs a capable people. Alternatively, he might be likened to the evolutionarily ancient “reptilian brain” which ensures that the newer and much cleverer neocortex is employed in the service of goals such as feeding and copulation.

The dismal odds in a frontal assault are reflected in the pervasive dissensus about the relevant issues in value theory. No ethical theory commands majority support among philosophers, so most philosophers must be wrong.

(“Unfortunately, there will soon be a device that will destroy the world. Fortunately, we got the grant to build it!”)

It is true that emulations would at least be more likely to have human-like motivations (as opposed to valuing only paperclips or discovering digits of pi). Depending on one’s views on human nature, this might or might not be reassuring.

One ground for this is that imitation can substitute for understanding. To build something from the ground up one must usually have a reasonably good understanding of how the system will work. Such understanding may not be necessary to merely copy features of an existing system.

The question, then, is not whether the result discovered by the Fields Medalist is in itself “important” (whether instrumentally or for knowledge’s own sake). Rather, the question is whether it was important that the medalist enabled the publication of the result to occur at an earlier date. The value of this temporal transport should be compared to the value that a world-class mathematical mind could have generated by working on something else.

At least in some cases, the Fields Medal might indicate a life spent solving the wrong problem—for instance, a problem whose allure consisted primarily in being famously difficult to solve.

The outlook now suggests that philosophic progress can be maximized via an indirect path rather than by immediate philosophizing. One of the many tasks on which superintelligence (or even just moderately enhanced human intelligence) would outperform the current cast of thinkers is in answering fundamental questions in science and philosophy. This reflection suggests a strategy of deferred gratification. We could postpone work on some of the eternal questions for a little while, delegating that task to our hopefully more competent successors—in order to focus our own attention on a more pressing challenge: increasing the chance that we will actually have competent successors. This would be high-impact philosophy and high-impact mathematics.

Achieving world peace, similarly, would be highly desirable; but considering the numerous efforts already targeting that problem, and the formidable obstacles arrayed against a quick solution, it seems unlikely that the contributions of a few extra individuals would make a large difference.

(Information continence may be especially challenging for academic researchers, accustomed as they are to constantly disseminating their results on every available lamppost and tree.) Particular

Pious words are not sufficient and will not by themselves make a dangerous technology safe: but where the mouth goeth, the mind might gradually follow.

Superintelligence is a challenge for which we are not ready now and will not be ready for a long time. We have little idea when the detonation will occur, though if we hold the device to our ear we can hear a faint ticking sound.

For a child with an undetonated bomb in its hands, a sensible thing to do would be to put it down gently, quickly back out of the room, and contact the nearest adult. Yet what we have here is not one child but many, each with access to an independent trigger mechanism. The chances that we will all find the sense to put down the dangerous stuff seem almost negligible. Some little idiot is bound to press the ignite button just to see what happens.

Nor can we attain safety by running away, for the blast of an intelligence explosion would bring down the entire firmament. Nor is there a grown-up in sight.

Consternation and fear would be closer to the mark; but the most appropriate attitude may be a bitter determination to be as competent as we can, much as if we were preparing for a difficult exam that will either realize our dreams or obliterate them.

Through the fog of everyday trivialities, we can perceive—if but dimly—the essential task of our age. In this book, we have attempted to discern a little more feature in what is otherwise still a relatively amorphous and negatively defined vision—one that presents as our principal moral priority (at least from an impersonal and secular perspective) the reduction of existential risk and the attainment of a civilizational trajectory that leads to a compassionate and jubilant use of humanity’s cosmic endowment.