15 Jan 2012

Towards AI-empowered machines

Posted by jofr

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are the latest and most advanced weapon technology in warefare, like rockets in WWII. Both can be used as deadly weapons. The V2 rocket developed by Wernher von Braun in Nazi Germany at the time of WWII was a weapon used to attack London, and it enabled intercontinental ballistic missiles, but it was also the prototype and foundation for the Saturn V moon rocket 20 years later. Rockets had a scientific and a civil purpose in the form of space exploration.

What is the value of UAVs, can they be used for civil and scientific purporses, too? Well, they can be used for exploration, for example for search and rescue missions. And they can be used as autonomous vehicles to explore foreign worlds. NASA’s Mars exploration rovers Pathfinder, Spirit, and Opportunity were very successful. They are controlled remotely like UAVs. The latest and largest NASA rover “Curiosity” is scheduled to land on the surface of Mars in August 2012.

Space exploration is exciting. But as new technology develops, old becomes obsolete, and astronauts seem to be among the obsolete stuff. The more distant the destinations, the easier it is to use robots instead of humans, and the more important autonomous behavior becomes. Astronauts are threatened by extinction. The heros of space exploration were once indispensable because the computers of the PC stone age were not developed enough. Today, astronauts are no longer necessary for many exploration missions, machines and robots can do a much better job: they don’t have to return to Earth.

Thus pilots and astronauts are more and more replaced by remote operators and in some advanced cases and in really remote sites, by intelligent autonomous agents. The ultimate UAV would be an AI-empowered machine, an UAV controlled by an AI, by an artificial agent who understands the world. Operating without a remote controller would be like leaving the earth orbit, and would require a very strong engine. In this sense, building the ultimate UAV or creating an AI is like reaching the moon in the 21st century: agents are the astronauts, UAVs are the new rockets, artificial curiosity is their fuel, adaptation their propulsion, and data centers their engine. Instead of space and cosmos, these agents would explore unknown foreign or virtual worlds.

I guess the secret of true artificial intelligence lies here, at the path to AI-empowered machines:

  • create a device capable of travelling to the moon: an extremely adaptive system (with vast cognitive capacity and the right kind of internal architecture, let us say an UAV controlled by an own set of datacenters)
  • place the system on the launch pad, i.e. in an artificial environment which is complex enough. Either you build robots (bring the computer in the world), or you create agents for virtual worlds (bring the world in the computer). In both cases you need a strong engine, a large number of really powerful data centers to let the device take off
  • launch the device, let the system learn and grow

Some cosmologists and astrobiologists even claim that this is the ultimate path any intelligent civilization must follow if it wants to explore the universe. They argue if we ever encounter aliens, it will be in the form of intelligent machines, because biological intelligence would only be a transitory (!) phenomenon. Paul Davies for instance says in his new book “The Eerie Silence” that any aliens exploring the universe will be AI-empowered machines:

“I think it very likely – in fact inevitable – that biological intelligence is only a transitory phenomenon, a fleeting phase in the evolution of the universe. If we ever encounter extraterrestrial intelligence, I believe it is overwhelmingly likely to be post-biological in nature.”

Davies writes further

“Human intelligence is no more than a few hundred thousand years old, depending somewhat on definition. In a million years, if humanity isn’t wiped out before that, biological intelligence will be viewed as merely the midwife of ‘real’ intelligence – the powerful, scalable, adaptable, immortable sort that is characteristic of the machine realm. Thereafter, machin intelligence will accelerate in power and capability until it hits fundamental bounds imposed by the physical environment, whatever they might be.”

(The pictures of an unmanned aerial vehicle and the NASA rover curiosity are from Wikipedia)

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