Intelligence Amplification

I’ve been thinking about Vernor Vinge’s 1993 essay The Coming Technological Singularity.

It’s a good read if you’ve not seen it, but in it Vinge says that he thinks one of the paths to super-human intelligence could be “intelligence amplification.” In particular, he says:

“[Intelligence amplification] is something
that is proceeding very naturally, in most cases not even recognized
by its developers for what it is. But every time our ability to access
information and to communicate it to others is improved, in some sense
we have achieved an increase over natural intelligence. Even now, the
team of a PhD human and good computer workstation (even an off-net
workstation!) could probably max any written intelligence test in

I’m certainly noticing this effect increasingly now in my everyday life. The Sunday Times last weekend reported that a new SMS service has started that will attempt to answer any question you have (I’d link to it but I can’t) – from chatup lines to whether God exists. The article is pretty jokey, but I think this could be part of a much more significant pattern of information on demand with very low barriers for access. I find I’m regularly wondering stuff and just typing queries into Google. Most of the time I get an answer and some of the time I get a very good answer. Rarely do I turn up nothing of value. Of course, it might not be accurate information, and whether simply “knowing more stuff” is intelligence is of course hugely debatable, but I think Vinge could be on to something.

After all, I’ve always wondered this about anti-AI arguments based on issues of “humanity”: do you care whether the person that sells you a newspaper knows who wrote Paradise Lost? For that matter, do you care if the judge that’s hearing your court case does? What matters most is what they know about those things that affect you. That may be a horribly inhuman persepective, but I think it shows that “humanity” isn’t simply a box you check to work out whether something is artificial any more.