Our Final Invention: James Barrat 2013

This book is a fascinating study of the history of, and future outlook and impact of Artificial Intelligence.

Barrat carefully and thoroughly outlines the history of machine intelligence, the ongoing development of artificial intelligence, and the future prospects for thinking machines.

Barrat introduces the concepts of Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) and Artificial Super Intelligence (ASI). Basically, as machine intelligence technology improves and matures, computers will soon achieve AGI. AGI is characterized as a computing system having overall intelligence generally equal to that of a human. AGI will represent a highly significant milestone in computing technology and capabilities, as for the first time computers will be able to fully replace humans in most intellectual endeavors.

Barrat proposes that the era of AGI will be comparatively short. AGI will be capable of perpetuating human design and development of ever more capable computing systems. However, unlike humans, AGI computers and systems can be almost infinitely replicated and interconnected. This will enable AGI systems to utilize human level intelligence much more effectively and efficiently than biological humans. AGI will therefore quickly develop ASI technology, wherein computing system will become almost infinitely more intelligent and intellectually capable than any individual human, quickly exceeding the combined intelligence of all of humanity combined.

Ray Kurzweil’s milestone book “The Singularity is Near (2005) defined the concept of the Singularity as a “singular” period in time (beginning around the year 2045) after which the pace of technological change will irreversibly transform human life.” Barrat reviews Kurzweil’s theory and prediction, and explains how ASI will be the technological driver of the singularity.

Both Baratt and Kurzweil discuss the S-curve concept of technological development. Technological development does not proceed in a linear manner, but rather grows and develops exponentially, until the technology reaches the pinnacle of its development. Computing technology has already achieved very significant capability, and machine intelligence algorithms are currently in wide use and making great contributions to our current quality of life. While today’s computing systems are still far from achieving AGI level of capability, the exponential growth curve means that the AGI milestone will likely be realized within the next decade or two.

Baratt devotes a significant portion of his book exploring the potential benefits and dangers of ASI. Will ASI computers be satisfied to continue to serve human masters, or would such super intelligent sentient entities view humans as a child-like lifeforms to be dominated, enslaved, or potentially exterminated?

This book has received a great deal of public interest, discussion, and debate in the past few years. It is well-written, easily digested, and very thought-provoking. I highly recommend it for managers, and for anyone who has in interest in the future of technology and its significance for the future of humanity.

Frank T.