Volume 1, Issue 2
2nd Quarter, 2006

Creating a New Intelligent Species: Choices and Responsibilities for AI Designers

Eliezer Yudkowsky

This article was adapted from a lecture given by Eliezer Yudkowsky at the 1st Annual Colloquium on the Law of Transhuman Persons on December 10, 2005 at the Space Coast Office of Terasem Movement, Inc. in Melbourne Beach, FL.

Eliezer Yudkowsky is a Research Fellow at the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, a nonprofit research think tank and public interest institute for the study and advancement of beneficial artificial intelligence and ethical cognitive enhancement. Yudkowsky analyzes the responsibilities that a designer of Artificial Intelligence has when creating a new intelligent being. He notes that an A.I. designer has more power than a human parent in that a human is limited by genes in creating his or her offspring. An A.I. designer is not only creating a new being, but a new species of being and has a responsibility to do better than a human parent could do.

When something is universal in our everyday lives, we take it for granted to the point of forgetting it exists. When we check into a Yudkowskyhotel room, we do not ask, “Will my room have air?” “Will the air have oxygen?” The anthropologist Donald Brown once compiled a list of more than two hundred "human universals”. These characteristics appear in every known human culture from modern-day Florida to Yanomamo hunter-gatherers in the Amazon rain forest. They are characteristics that anthropologists do not even think to report, because, like air, they are everywhere.

In every known culture, the following characteristics are shared: tool making, weapons, grammar, tickling, sweets preferred, planning for future, sexual attraction, meal times, private inner life, trying to heal the sick, incest taboos, true distinguished from false, mourning, personal names, dance, singing, promises, and mediation of conflicts. Yet the reports that make it into the media are all about differences between cultures. You will not read, in an exciting article about a newly discovered tribe, that they eat food, breathe air, feel joy and sorrow, use tools, and tell each other stories. We forget how alike we are under the skin, living in a world that reminds us only of our differences.

Why is there such a thing as human nature? Why are there such things as human universals? Human universals are not truly universal. A rock feels no pain. An amoeba does not love its children. Mice do not make tools. Chimpanzees do not hand down traditional stories. It took millions of generations of natural selection to carve out human nature, each emotion and instinct. Doing anything complicated takes more than one gene. Complex biological machinery, such as rotating molecular gears, has to evolve incrementally. If gene B depends on gene A to produce its effect, then gene A has to become nearly universal in the gene pool before there is a substantial selection pressure in favor of gene B. A fur coat is not an evolutionary advantage unless the environment reliably throws winter at you.

Imagine that you have a complex adaptation with six interdependent parts, and that each of the six genes is independently at ten percent frequency in the population. The chance of assembling a whole work adaptation is literally a million to one. In comic books, you find mutants who, all in one jump, as a result of point mutation, have the ability to throw lightning bolts. When you consider the biochemistry needed to produce electricity, the biochemical adaptations needed to prevent electricity from hurting you, and the brain circuitry needed to control it finely enough to throw lightning bolts, it is clear that this is not going to happen as a result of one mutation. So much for the X-Men! This is not how evolution works. Eventually you get electric eels, but not all at once. Evolution climbs a long incremental pathway to produce complex machinery, one piece at a time, because each piece has to become universal before dependent pieces evolve.

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