This excellent article by Michael Anissimov describes two versions of how things could shake out in the coming Artificial Intelligence revolution, and suggests that it’s more likely strong AI (that is, computer-like devices that think pretty much like we do) will lead to an explosive increase in intelligence as a result of “recursive self improvement”. The idea is that the intelligent machines will operate much faster than our brains can function, but will also tend to improve on their own designs.
For humanity, design improvements on our brain architecture have been a very-very slow process governed primarily by evolutionary challenges. Basic analytical intelligence almost certainly emerged in animals as an adaptive advantage in terms of survival. Unlike our cousins the higher apes, human brain power has combined with community history to allow us to build technologies that last through many generations, and more importantly to *improve* as new people grapple with new problems. This technological explosion is a fairly recent phenomenon but should still be considered a very slow process compared to the type of progress you would expect to see in an environment driven purely towards advancing the technologies surrounding “intelligence”.
If Anissimov and many others in strong AI research are correct, the time between the advent of conscious, recursively self improving computers and a massive explosion of intelligent machines could be very small – a few years or even possibly just a few moments.
Currently, we humans do a handful of physical transformations that take us off of the slow evolutionary treadmill. Glasses are a simple technology that changes us. Corneal transplant and heart stints are “advanced” technological enhancments to our bodies. Cell phones and computers are technological enhancements to our brains (and yes, the company called “BrainGate” has now connected computer chips directly to brains allowing human brains to directly interface with computers to do simple tasks).
Still, earth’s painstakingly slow evolutionary processes has yet to develop a creature that will be able to rebuild itself every few days into a vastly superior version of the former self. We appear to be within a few decades of that type of entity.
The implications of this re-evolutionary development cannot be overestimated.