News and commentary about the Great Frontiers

ISS007-E-10807 (21 July 2003) --- This view of Earth's horizon as the sunsets over the Pacific Ocean was taken by an Expedition 7 crewmember onboard the International Space Station (ISS). Anvil tops of thunderclouds are also visible. Credit: Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA Johnson Space Center

Image Credit: ISS007-E-10807 (21 July 2003) – Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA Johnson Space Center

Singularity Summit 2007 Introduction


The drive from Tucson, Arizona to San Francisco, CA is about 1460 kilometers (907 miles) long and takes about 14 hours. During that time, a driver makes many decisions, many of them consciously, many of them not. Operating the vehicle becomes nearly automatic after years of practice, but years of practice make traffic, construction, and confusing directions no less stressful.

To arrive at a destination on time for an event requires logistics, including finding and using the appropriate maps, making hotel reservations, stopping for gas and food, checking finances, packing, unpacking, and much more. A typical member of Homo sapiens sapiens is equipped to deal with travel because of a general purpose computational machine called the brain, as well as the evolution of a host of procedures, practices and technologies that make travel as we know it today possible.

Who is this individual that drives, and what is this thing called the brain? We attempt to articulate these concepts by creating new concepts and conveying them through language. “I” am the driver. I drive because “thinking” and “reasoning” and “knowledge” acquired through “experience” and “learning” have made this possible. I am “conscious” of what needs to be done. Abstractions upon abstractions, an ability especially pronounced in human brains.

If we do not appropriately define our terms, the more technical among us may protest, though most of us do have some rudimentary feel for these concepts. What is it to be intelligent? To be a human and intelligent? We might not be able to give a definition that passes academic review, but most of us know human-level intelligence when we observe it. We know that animals do not possess this intelligence, though some come closer than others, depending on how we are defining intelligence at that moment.

I am here in San Francisco to hear more about intelligence, and specifically artificial intelligence (AI). If the same level of intelligence found in a typical human brain can also exist in other substrates, like, say, microchips, then the world might become a radically different place should this second intelligence come into existence. A world of two, or more, species with human-level or greater intelligence might be a world straight out of a science fiction novel, if not more fantastic.

While AI exist today with certain advantages compared to humans, there is currently no general-purpose AI that can perform more than a few tasks, and certainly nothing like the general capabilities of the human animal. In San Francisco, people who believe that just such an Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) will soon be created have come together for the Singularity Summit 2007: AI and the Future of Humanity. A sequel to a public overview last year of a concept called the “Technological Singularity” (please see the Frontier Channel page regarding this topic), the Singularity Summit 2007 will focus for two days on AGI with a series of speakers. The event was organized by the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence.

The Technological Singularity has been defined as a moment in history when artificial minds surpass human-level intelligence. A second intelligent species with at least the capabilities of humans and potentially many more would, it is argued, shake the very foundation of our human-centric existence. Just as we would be able to create AGI, so would AGI be able to create subsequent generations of AGI, taking advantage of the very technological trends that seem to be accelerating progress even today. An AGI that can do things just a little bit better than a human should be able to create an AGI that can do things a lot better.

What exactly are the ramifications of the advent of AGI? Will this second species be competitive, helpful, or friendly? Could they help us solve problems we are currently not capable of solving, and will new problems and consequences arise? When will AGI be invented? Should we invent AGI? The Singularity Summit is meant to address these issues and more, in a forum that brings together scientists and technologists, investors, enthusiasts, journalists and the public.

Frontier Channel will provide updates, overviews, and other information regarding this event on September 7 and 8, 2007.

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