Technology Advancement: past, present and future

Human beings have been on planet Earth dating back nearly 300,000 years. In all these years on this beautiful and resourceful planet, humans have never experienced this surge in technological advancement we are experiencing now. There are several reasons behind why this is happening, but I always like to address two: knowledge is becoming accessible as time goes by and, evolution and advancement generates more evolution and advancement.

In past eras, it was insanely difficult to pass knowledge down from generation to generation, mostly because there was no language other than gestures and noises. Humanity’s first language was developed by the Sumerians, around 3.000 B.C. If you plot this onto a chart, it will cause you the following reaction: “Wow, this is pretty new!”.

Yes, it is pretty recent and its development has been pretty awesome. It’s way easier to make yourself clearly understood when you speak to someone that speaks your native language, right? But the real game changer was the invention of the printing press, by Gutenberg in 1.440 AD. Before that, printing was simply done on wood or a movable type based printing press system using metal printing matrices which was practically non-scalable. The printing press made knowledge spread much faster through books and, as you know, reading books make people smarter. And if you thought language was fairly new, the printing press was like, yesterday.

With knowledge getting a boost, the industrial revolution came, and the manually operated printing press was replaced by steam-powered rotary presses allowing printing on an industrial scale. One might had thought the human evolution was almost at its peak at this time, but in the 20th century things took off. Cars all around the streets, airplanes flying in the skies, computers started to show their supreme calculation skills, man lands on the moon and, in the middle 90’s, internet became popular…

Printed books were fast to pass knowledge along. But the internet? Oh, the internet is much faster. In fact, you can pass knowledge live to another person that is physically located in another country using the internet. And right now, you are getting this knowledge from an article on Medium that you are reading using the internet. Things are scaling quickly!

For example, imagine bringing a man from the year 1700 A.D. to the present. He would be really shocked by what he’d see. The world he was used to live in would be insanely changed: cars, airplanes, cell phones, internet. But here’s the interesting thing: for this 1700’s guy to cause another human the same level of shock, he would have to bring a 12.000 BC person to the 1700’s. You read that right! And for the 12.000 BC guy to shock somebody the same way, he would have to bring somebody from around the year 120,000 BC.

All this happens because of a simple rule: if we learn and pass knowledge more and more quickly, evolution speeds up. And as time goes by, this seems to be even faster. So, what awaits us? I imagine something like this:

It is very important you understand the exponentiality of evolution. If you capture this, you’ll be amazed by what the most brilliant minds of the world are working on the subject of Artificial Intelligence, which I think could be the next great revolution of mankind.

I’ll use myself as an example. If I could go back and tell my old self how the world is today, I wouldn’t believe myself. When I was born, in 1988, computers were starting to be a thing, along with the internet. There were no smartphones. Knowledge was basically spread through books and encyclopedias. Now I can Google who invented language and get a prompt answer! I can listen to music I like without having to buy any CDs or vinyls.

Now let’s use our time machine again: if you could bring your future self to chat with you today, would you believe what you would’ve been told? Who can figure out what 30, 50, 70 years into the future will look like? I strongly believe this future has a lot of Artificial Intelligence.

There are three types of AI:

  • Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI), which is an AI specialized in something (Poker, for example; it knows everything related to Poker, it is genius playing Poker, but it can’t do nothing else);
  • Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), which is referred to as Human-Level Intelligence. AGI would be able to perform everything a human does though this doesn’t exist yet.
  • Artificial SuperIntelligence (ASI), as defined by Oxford professor and one of the greatest minds related to AI, Nick Bostrom, is “an intellect that is much smarter than the best human brains in practically every field, including scientific creativity, general wisdom and social skills”.

Today the world is full of ANI. You can find ANI in self-driving cars, when you are purchasing something online and AI offers you similar products, Siri, Google Translate, etc.We are close to reaching AGI. The most pessimistic specialists believe it is more likely we will have AGI than not by 2075. The most optimistic ones picture us having AGI by the year 2040. Take a look back at the charts in the beginning of this article and you’ll see how close this is.

AGI could change the way we live today. It will replace lots of human jobs, so great minds are already discussing global income distribution, which will probably be an issue in the future. Moreover, AGI will help various fields, such as medicine, technology, industrial, and others to move forward. Think about the amazing things it would bring to the table.

OK, this is cool. But ASI is way cooler. And the path to get there is extremely difficult, exciting and also worrisome, in certain ways.

“ASI would be an intellect much smarter than the best human brains”.

As Nick Bostrom states

For this concept, I like to use the Intelligence Staircase picture, as it put humans as much superior creatures than ants, chickens and monkeys. And, as a matter of fact, our brains are much more evolved than the ones of these animals, so the staircase looks like this:

The most incredible thing about ASI is that the smarter the AI gets, the quicker it’s able to increase its own intelligence. This is the part where it gets exciting and worrisome at the same time. Can you imagine an AI self-evolving? It can find knowledge that is way beyond our comprehension. Even if this ASI wanted to teach us something, it would be difficult, because it would probably talk about things we don’t even know how to understand. Picture this situation as if you wanted to teach complex physics to your dog. The dog wouldn’t even understand and people would mock you if they see you trying something like this.

Specialists are pretty sure we are going to get there. Their main concern and challenge is how to create a controllable ASI, something we could manage.

“The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race”.

One of the greatest minds that ever lived, Stephen Hawking

Professor Hawking said the early stage artificial intelligence developed so far have already proven to be very useful, but he feared the consequences of creating something that can match or surpass humans.

On the other hand, Ray Kurzweil, american author, computer scientist, inventor, futurist and Google’s director of engineering tells us to not fear artificial intelligence: “AI is not in one or two hands; it’s in 1 billion or 2 billion hands. A kid in Africa with a smartphone has more intelligent access to knowledge than the President of the United States had 20 years ago. As AI continues to get smarter, its use will only grow. Virtually every­one’s mental capabilities will be enhanced by it within a decade”. Basically what he says is that, with AI’s exponential growth, humans will grow alongside.

Kurzweil complements: “AI today is advancing in the diagnosis of disease, finding cures, developing renewable clean energy, helping to clean up the environment, providing high-­quality education to people all over the world, helping the disabled and contributing in a myriad of other ways. We have the opportunity in the decades ahead to make major strides in addressing the grand challenges of humanity. AI will be the pivotal technology in achieving this progress. We have a moral imperative to realize this promise while controlling the peril. It won’t be the first time we’ve succeeded in doing this”.

I agree with Ray. And I’m eager to live in this future.

Great times are coming!

Articles and videos I used to write this post:

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