Intelligence Stairway

Jaan Tallinn, computer programmer and founding engineer of Skype and Kazaa’

Co-presented with the Centre for Timeat the University of Sydney

17 July 2012

Jaan Tallinn, one of the founding engineers of Skype and a philosopher of modern technology, believes the impact of artificial intelligence has reached a crucial threshold. He argues that since evolution managed to produce humans about 100,000 years ago, a significant phase change has now occurred: the optimisation power of humans has exceeded that of evolution. In short, human-driven technological progress has largely replaced evolution as the main shaper of the future. We are witnessing a cascade-like pattern in which we produce machines whose ability to control the future exceeds that of the process that produced them. Tallinn calls this pattern the "Intelligence Stairway".

It raises a major question: does the production of computers who are smarter than their creators constitute a similar phase transition than that when evolution produced humans? If the answer is yes, then we should treat the possible emergence of such artificial general intelligence (AGI) as the end of human-driven technological progress, and beginning of a new phase: AGI-driven "intelligence explosion". In turn, this leads to an uneasy conclusion that "intelligence explosion" might effectively manifest itself as a sudden global ecological catastrophe.

There are two different approaches to avoiding the catastrophe: one is to prove that the trajectory of the "intelligence explosion" will be favourable to humanity. The other approach is to artificially limit the AIs to narrow domains, so they would lack the ability to replace humans as the drivers of technological progress. Jaan argues that the latter approach is more pragmatic than the former, so we need a co-ordinated effort to establish and enforce a "practical safety protocol" for AI developers in order to make sure that they would not produce AGI-s by accident

Jaan Tallin

Jaan Tallinn is one of the programmers behind Kazaa file sharing platform, and a founding engineer of Skype. He is a co-founder of the Cambridge Centre for the Study of Existential Risk. He describes himself as singularitarian/hacker/investor/physicist (in that order). In recent years he has taken an interest in the ethical and safety aspects of artificial intelligence, thus traveling the world and talking to different experts, from philosophers to researchers to actual AI programmers.