Support for intelligence amplification
Why is it important to find ways to improve human’s ability to learn, think, and perform ethical reasoning?
Here is a supporting argument for intelligence amplification that I’ll call “Increasing the amount of future decisions that are made by enhanced decision-makers”. I haven’t seen it formalized before, so I’ve written it out here for reference. I find it appealing, but I might be missing important perspectives that would suggest otherwise. What do you think?
Increasing the amount of future decisions that are made by enhanced decision-makers
It could be the case that human brains, no matter how exceptional, are not complex enough to figure out the best long-term course for our species. Technological power will develop faster than our ability to ensure its safety.
One strategy we can follow is to develop further insight about what to value (i.e. through cause prioritization research), and build our social and technical capacity to pursue those values as we discover them. One way to build social and technical capacity is through improving human cognition.
As some humans develop more augmented cognition, they hold much better position to steer technological development in a positive direction. Therefore, one of the best investments we can make now is to augment cognition as fast as possible – increasing the amount of future decisions that are made by enhanced decision-makers.
There are several steps:
As a general strategic consideration, If you aren’t in a good position to answer a question or accomplish a goal, the next best move is to put yourself in position where you are much more likely to be able to answer the question or accomplish the goal.
You can do this by getting more information and a better definition of the problem, and building up resources or abilities that lead to answering it. 1
The future contains overwhelming problems and enormous opportunities. Like it or not, we are involved in a high-stakes game with the future of earth-originating life. There is no guarantee that the steps to solve the problems or reach those opportunities will be calibrated to our species’ current level of ability. In fact, some seem extremely difficult and beyond our current level of skill. 2 With so much hanging in the balance, we really, really need to radically improve humanity’s capacity to solve problems.
One way to put ourselves in a better position is to increase human cognition. In this context, I intend “cognition” to refer to a very broad set of things: “the set of information processing systems that we can use to solve problems and pursue opportunities.”3
Some places to increase human intelligence are through collective intelligence (e.g. organizations, incentive structures, discussion platforms), individual tools (e.g. mindmapping) , psychological methods (e.g. education and rationality training), and neural activity (e.g. neurotechnology).
As some humans develop more augmented cognition, they will occupy a much better position to steer the future in a positive direction. 4
Therefore, one of the best investments we can make now is to augment cognition as fast as possible – increasing the amount of future decisions that are made by enhanced decision-makers. (This does not mean we ought to put off working on those important problems now in the hopes that we can completely “pass the workload” to future augmented humans. Nor is it a claim that, if we reach extraordinary success at intelligence amplification, other problems will be immediately solved. This is merely to support intelligence amplification as one of many possible valuable investments in the longer-term future. )
I welcome commentary on (1), and am fairly confident of (2). The main part I want to focus on is (3).
Questions for further research
Is (3) (increasing human intelligence) a reliably good way of fulfilling the action proposed in (1) (put ourselves in a better position to solve problems)?
If so, which realms of intelligence amplification (say, out of collective intelligence, individual tools, psychological methods, and neural activity) hold the most promise? 5
- See more on my strategy for navigating large open possibility spaces.
Question: Beyond gathering information, skills, and resources, are there other actions you can do to better put yourself in a position to answer the questions or accomplish the goals? ↩
- Problems: most importantly, existential risks. See this introduction to existential risk reduction, and a more detailed description of 12 prominent existential risks.
Opportunities: Among the opportunities that we get to pursue, I’m pretty jazzed about dancing in fully-immersive VR, developing better control over what genes do, figuring out more about where space came from, and the potential to explore mindspace while implemented in another substrate. ↩
- See Engelbart’s framework for augmenting the human intellect, which I will expand in a future post. ↩
- Or, it could be that the gains in intelligence that we develop are not enough, but the intelligence-augmented humans can then develop a more advanced IA technology. This chain of successive upgrades could go on for a number of iterations, or could to recursive self-improvement of the initial intelligence-augmented humans. In this case, we would be “Equipping future humans to equip themselves to make more optimal decisions.” ↩
- A final note: This blog aims to provide a more technical, actionable projects list towards “upgrading cognition”, so we can spur the necessary scientific and technological development while we still have time. This post is partially motivated by the urgency in Bostrom’s unusually poetic writing in “Utopia”:
Your brain’s special faculties: music, humor, spirituality, mathematics, eroticism, art, nurturing, narration, gossip! These are fine spirits to pour into the cup of life. Blessed you are if you have a vintage bottle of any of these. Better yet, a cask! Better yet, a vineyard!
Be not afraid to grow. The mind’s cellars have no ceilings!
What other capacities are possible? Imagine a world with all the music dried up: what poverty, what loss. Give your thanks, not to the lyre, but to your ears for the music. And ask yourself, what other harmonies are there in the air, that you lack the ears to hear? What vaults of value are you witlessly debarred from, lacking the key sensibility?
Had you but an inkling, your nails would be clawing at the padlock.
Your brain must grow beyond any genius of humankind, in its special faculties as well as its general intelligence, so that you may better learn, remember, and understand, and so that you may apprehend your own beatitude.
Oh, stupidity is a loathsome corral! Gnaw and tug at the posts, and you will slowly loosen them up. One day you’ll break the fence that held your forebears captive. Gnaw and tug, redouble your effort! ↩