Hans Moravec


Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind

Oxford 1999

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Keywords : http://www.frc.ri.cmu.edu/~hpm/book98/ - The world we inhabit is radically different, culturally and physically, from the one to which we adapted biologically - hypertrophied brain - extreme cultural plasticity, along with an ever more expressive language - somewhere, about five thousand years ago in our cultural history, the relationstip between biology and culture began to alter radically. The Cultural Revolution - memes - agricultural civilizations - Industrial Revolution - Robot industries - Mind - machine intelligences -


1988's Mind Children: The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence, humanlike performance was rescheduled for tenthousand-dollar personal computers in forty years.

By 1990 personal computers outpowered 1978 mainframes, and formerly intractable problems began to find solutions. Home computers soon recognized printed and spoken words, and experimental robots cruised hallways and highways. With a firmer launch ramp than Mind Children, this book projects humanlike competence in thousand-dollar computers in forty years. A slight rise in the estimated difficulty has been partially offset by faster growth in computer power.

Mind Children's near-term projections have held up pretty well, with one big exception. There are still no mobile utility robots to help us around the house. In 1988 several small companies had developed security, cleaning, and transport robots that navigated prearranged paths by sensing walls and special markers, somewhat like insects. I had hoped those would lead to more advanced (and more marketable) robots that perceived their surroundings and roamed freely. Alas, the first machines did not attract customers, and the companies fizzled. There are perceiving robots now, but only in research settings. But, this time for sure! In line with refurbished predictions for utility robots set forth in Chapter 4, I am pursuing a business plan to equip existing factory vehicles with enough spatial awareness to work in unmapped areas by about 2000, expanding to mass-market machines like small home vacuum robots by 2005, then more capable multipurpose "universal" robots by 2010. It is becoming a race: many other robot ventures are afoot.

Chapter 4 anticipates four generations of universal robot, each spanning a decade. The first has a lizardlike spatial sense, the second adds mouselike adaptability, the third monkeylike imagination, and the fourth humanlike reasoning. The uniform schedule comes from matching each prototype animal's brain to steadily rising computer power. But it took three hundred million years for our ancestors to evolve from tiny ancestral chordates (of insectUntil then, look for new developments, commentary, references, and color illustrations on my world-wide-web page containing the search word "hpm9 8book," found, for now, at the location: http://www.frc.ri.cmu.edu/~hpm/book98/

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The world we inhabit is radically different, culturally and physically, from the one to which we adapted biologically. We were shaped during the last two million years by an ongoing Ice Age—a time of continuous climatic change, as every few tens of thousands of years glaciers advanced and retreated over most of the earth (the current warm spell is but an interglacial period). Such variability favors high adaptability, by making life untenable for the rigidly optimized.

In our species the adaptability took the form of a hypertrophied brain and an extended childhood, supporting an extreme cultural plasticity, along with an ever more expressive language to rapidly pass on adopted behaviors: as we grow to puberty we can learn equally well to be fur-clad arctic hunters, robed desert nomads, or naked equatorial gatherers. For almost all of human history, as still in Kopenawa's world, cultural inheritance played a straightforward supporting role: providing the how for the basic needs of life. But somewhere, about five thousand years ago in our cultural history, the relationstip between biology and culture began to alter radically.

The Cultural Revolution

Culture lets us rapidly accommodate to environmental changes because it is a medium for a new kind of evolution. Collections of rules for behavior (memes, to use a term invented by Richard Dawkins3) pass from generation to generation, mutating and competing with alternatives, just as biological genes do - only much more quickly. A biological trait requires generations of selective replication to become established in a population, but a cultural practice can be altered, and spread through an entire tribe, many times in a single human lifetime. After hundreds of thousands of years of slow cultural meander, our ancestors stumbled into a set of behaviors that catalyzed the creation of ever more behaviors and memories, and physical implements to support them: a selfaccelerating cycle that is reaching escape velocity today. What exactly sparked the tinder, apart from simple accumulation of useful skills, is a fascinating question. A baby boom or forced migration in an improving climate may have led to shortages in hunting and gathering resources, forcing would

....The agricultural civilizations were able to grow far beyond village size because of a series of social inventions, among them institutional roles like King, Soldier, Priest, Merchant, Tax Collector, and Peasant, clearly marked by costumery, ceremony, and standard rituals, substituting for the impossible task of remembering thousands of individual relationships. New solutions bring new problems. Cheaters in villages are easily recognized and punished but find many opportunities and hiding places in the anonymity of large society. Enforcement institutions - Moral authorities, Lawmakers, Police, and Criminal labels - partially countered the breakdown of cooperation. The problem of keeping track of who owes what to whom, a matter of memory in a village but a criminal opportunity in a city, encouraged the invention of recordkeeping: tokens, tally marks, a number system, and eventually writing. The new social functions involved complicated procedures unlike those of tribal life, many thus slow and difficult to learn. Enter extended formal training periods, eventually Teachers and Schools.

Like villages, civilizations compete with one another for resources and may gain advantage from institutions that foster innovations—and incidentally put cultural evolution into higher gear. Agriculture benefits from precise knowledge of the season, and thus of celestial cycles, and military and civil projects

go better with professional thinkers and builders on the job, so the positions of Astronomer/Astrologer, Philosopher/Magician, and Engineer/Artisan become part of the picture. The innovations of professional thinkers, transmitted by increasingly effective written language over huge distances and times, accelerate innovation itself. The result is a process far, far faster than biological evolution that produces ever more elaborate places for humans to live, ever swifter ways for them to move and to communicate, ever larger storehouses of previous thought, ever more territory occupied, ever more energy controlled. It also produces a world increasingly unlike the villages, fixed and nomadic, in which human behavior evolved, and so makes ever greater demands on our adaptability.

Strange Ducks, Out of Water

Today, as our machines approach human competence across the board, our stone-age biology and our information-age lives grow ever more mismatched. Work in the developed countries has become increasingly specialized and esoteric, and it now often takes a graduate degree, representing half a working lifetime of sustained learning, to master the necessary unnatural skills. As societal roles become yet more complex, specialized, and far removed from our inborn predispositions, they require increasing years of rehearsal to master, while providing fewer visceral rewards. The essential functions of a technical society elude the understanding of an increasing fraction of the population. Even the most successful individuals often find theTr work boring, difficult, unnatural, and unsatisfying, more like a sustained circus performance than a real llfe. Caffeine substitutes for natural adrenaline. Those original activities that do remain—eating and child raising, for instance—are often squeezed by the strange new tasks. The mismatch between instinct and necessity induces alienation in the midst of unprecedented physical plenty.

Back to the Future

Productivity rose during the Industrial Revolution, as steadily improving machines outperformed and displaced ever more human labor. Simple diffusion, and social innovations like labor unlons and profit taxes, widely distributed the consequent wealth. The wealth expressed itself both in increased public and private consumption and increased leisure time. During the last three centuries in the industrialized countries, slave and child labor and hundred

Short-term fluctuations in the trend notwithstanding, as machines assume more—eventually all—of essential production, humans everywhere will be left with the options of the idle rich. Work time is yoked to the strange needs of the enterprise, but idle time can be structured to satisfy hunter-gatherer instincts. The human population will regain the opportunity to organize its life in more natural patterns. A greener planet is a likely result of this ongoing process. As societies industrialize and become wealthy, increased consumption manifests itself in deforestation, pollution, and the like—to a point.

Further wealth reduces the manifestations of industry, by making the luxury of a greener environment affordable. Advancing technology widens the options from which individuals sculpt first their personal lives, but then also their communal world. The developed countries of America, Asia, and Europe began their green return in recent decades, as per-capita annual income grew beyond about $15,000. Many developing countries are just reaching this turnaround point. Advanced robois will reinforce the trend indirectly, by tremendously accelerating technological evolution and, for instance, allowing extreme processes to be moved to outer space. They will contribute directly by substituting for energy- and chemical-intensive industrial separation and shaping processes. A robot population far exceeding the human one will achieve the same end much more efficiently by tirelessly sorting and rearranging matter on a tiny scale with myriads of microscopic fingers.

Any choice has consequences: by comfortably retreating to its roots, biological humanity will leave the uncomfortable, uncharted but grand opportunities to others.

No less than today's organizations, fully automated companies will compete with one another not only in routine manufacture and distribution, but also in planning, development, and research. To robots built for it, outer space will offer unprecedented energy, materials, room, and perhaps freedom from taxation for these activities - a tremendous competitive advantage. Sooner rather than later, automated industry will grow away from earth. The space industries will continuously devise their own improvements, gaining rapidly in size, efficiency, diversity, and intelligence. The earthbound "consumer outlet" parts of the operation, while not shrinking in absolute size, will represent an ever-decreasing fraction of the whole. Old earth will become insignificant on the ever grander scale of earthspawned activity.

Robot industries will start as conversions of existing enterprises, retaining their institutional, legal, and competitive structures. But then they will explore and exploit expanding non-traditional options, some very unhuman. Our artificial progeny will grow away from and beyond us, both in physical distance and structure, and in similarity of thought and motive. In time their activities may become incompatible with old earth's continued existence. Even so, it is likely that we, the historical root of their transcendence, will be preserved in some form—though, to us, the form may seem extremely strange. Just possibly, human personalities could participate in some way in the mainstream of this future activity, either under the wings of superintelligent hosts, or by being transformed into a compatible form—surely becoming very unhuman in the process.

There is an analogy between the evolution of the first living organisms from simpler chemical processes several billion years ago and the development of technical civilization from human manipulative and learning skills. Technical civilization, and the human minds that support it, are the first feeble stirrings of a radically new form of existence, one as different from life as life is from simple chemistry. Call the new arrangement Mind. Unlike Life alone, which learns from its past, but is blind to its future, Mind can choose among alternatives to imperfectly select its own destiny - even to amplify that very ability.

Mind Fire

Chapter 2 reviews the state of the robot art, like a baby poised for sudden growth. The following chapters mix predictions with suggested actions. One of the lessons of chaos theory is that sensitive systems are impossible to predict but often easy to control. Under that model, the future can sometimes be predicted, if one steadily nudges events toward the prediction! Believable and physically possible predictions can themselves nudge, by inspiring work. When such proactive predictions miss, it is often because they overlook even more potent possibilities, rather than because they are unachievable.

In the thirteenth century Roger Bacon imagined high-speed worldwide travel—via seven-league boots, rather than flying conveyances. In the sixteenth century Leonardo da Vinci designed aircraft—powered by human muscle, rather than combustion engines. In the nineteenth century Jules Verne anticipated submarine warfare—against wooden sailing vessels, rather than armored battle fleets guarded by electronic senses and aircraft. Shortly thereafter, H. G. Wells anticipated a world of the distant future with humanity radically transformed—by Darwinian evolution, not directed engineering. Science fiction of the early twentieth century, inspired by the theories, inventions, and speculations of rocket pioneers like Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, Robert Goddard, and Hermann Oberth, is filled with spacecraft—guided by slide-rule-wielding human navigators, not digital computers (telephone, radio, and computers, in particular, and their dramatic applications, seem to have taken prognosticators by surprise). There are no large fleets of dirigible airships ferrying transatlantic passengers; faster and more manageable heavier-than-air craft displaced them.

Barring cataclysms, I consider the development of intelligent machines a nearterm inevitability. Chapters 3 and 4 offer a scenario. Like airplanes, but unlike spaceships or radio, machine intelligences will be direct imitations of something already existing biologically. Every technical step toward intelligent robots has a rough evolutionary counterpart, and each is likely to benefit its creators, manufacturers, and users. Each advance will provide intellectual rewards, competitive advantages, and increased wealth and options of all kinds. Each can make the world a nicer place to live. At the same time, by performing better and cheaper, the robots will displace humans from essential roles. Rather quickly, they could displace us from existence. I'm not as alarmed as many by the latter possibility, since I consider these future machines our progeny, "mind children" built in our image and likeness, ourselves in more potent form. Like biological children of previous generations, they will embody humanity's best chance for a long-term future. It behooves us to give them every advantage and to bow out when we can no longer contribute.

But, as also with biological children, we can probably arrange for a comfortable retirement before we fade away. Some biological children can be convinced to care for elderly parents. Similarly, "tame" superintelligences could be created and induced to protect and support us, for a while. Such relationships require advance planning and diligent maintenance. Chapter 5 offers suggestions.

It is the "wild" intelligences, however, those beyond our constraints, to whom the future belongs. The available tools for peeking into that strange future—extrapolation, analogy, abstraction, and reason—are, of course, totally inadequate. Yet, even they suggest surreal happenings. Chapter 6's robots sweep into space in a wave of colonization, but their wake converts everything into increasingly pure thinking stuff. A "Mind Fire" will burn across the universe. Inside the Mind, considered in Chapter 7, physical law loses its primacy to purposes, goals, interpretations, and God knows what else.

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