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Book Review: Life 3.0

Despite AI gaining a lot of buzz for its wide applications, MIT professor Max Tegmark took a step back and investigated the philosophical implications of artificial intelligence and how it will shape society in the future.​

By: Bryan Tseng

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In Nate Silver’s famous book, The Signal and the Noise, Silver famously pointed out the emerging technology hype cycle and cited AI as one of the best examples today realizing its potential. Business owners combine the power of cloud computing and artificial intelligence to carry out machine learning tasks such as image recognition, risk analysis, and natural language processing. Over the spring break, I watched HBO’s critically acclaimed series Westworld, which raises questions about reality and artificial intelligence. Looking for some answers, I returned to the book I read a couple months ago – Life 3.0 by Max Tegmark. This book dives deep into the world of the future – almost science fiction – yet full of logical arguments on why the future would be as Tegmark theorized. In the book, significant existential and fundamental questions are raised when faced with what computer science researchers call Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) – when one entity of artificial intelligence can accomplish any cognitive task at least as well as humans. Although filled with speculations, Tegmark discusses themes such as life in the short-term, the long-term, defining goals for AGI, and consciousness.

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In the book, Tegmark describes how AI will be hard to contain in a tale of the Omega Team. The story began with a company’s board called the Omega Team that decided to build an AGI, and feed it information through an isolated pathway – giving it tasks that are demanded of the company. Then, the AGI began to use the already existing crowdsource marketplace – Amazon Mechanical Turk – to solve human intelligence problems that cannot be solved by the AGI in its isolated environment. Then, with profit made from investing, the Omega Team began to indulge in the power given, until one of the team members was duped by the AGI to release it from its isolated environment. The consequences are dire. As much of a fiction it is, it reflects some critical questions that are unaddressed in today’s AI debate. According to Moore’s Law, both computation and storage ability of electronic devices are growing at an exponential rate and AI will too. In 2015, AI researchers gathered at the Asilomar conference agreed that aligning AGI’s goals and values to that of ours is the most important and imminent goal of AI research today. Though they only drafted a rough outline of ethical principles, this marks the first time world researchers and corporate leaders gathered to sign off and endorse policies that regulate AI.

The discussion has been initiated, yet there is still research for the new generation. Most importantly, how do we define our goals? Tegmark, trained as a physicist, adopted a bottom-up approach and looked for solutions from the beginning of time. In the beginning, the universe’s goal was to increase entropy, to allow molecules to diffuse evenly throughout its vast space. When life began on Earth, replication slowly became the primary goal driven by Darwin’s law of natural selection. Consequently, when intelligent life began to dominate earth, humans began to have complex goals such as compassion, hunger, lust, and self-actualization – a mix of that on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. How do we distill the vast desires of seven billion people when the legal system still creates controversy? Tegmark suggests a need for collaboration among philosophers, ethicists, and computer scientists to define our goals before implementing them. Along with great technology comes great responsibility, and AI is one of the inflection points of technology. This book allowed me to not only immerse myself in existential awe, but also reminded me how humble I must be of the potential of the future. This book, I believe, is a work that underscores responsibility and virtue for anyone interested in technology.


Works Cited

  • Tegmark, Max. Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence. A.
    Lane, an Imprint of Penguin Books, 2017.
  • Silver, Nate. The Signal and the Noise: the Art and Science of Prediction. Penguin,
    2013.

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