Meet the Sensory Orb. It’s a flesh orb that possesses a powerful synthetic brain. There are several questions one must ask about the Sensory Orb.
Why is the Sensory Orb important? Because it’s the key to artificial general intelligence of the human variety.
You see, there are multiple strains of thought as to how to achieve AGI. Most serious computer scientists and neurologists know that it’s not something we’re likely to achieve anytime soon, but their reasoning is different from what most people might assume.
We don’t understand how intelligence or consciousness works, first and foremost. However, we can try our best at mimicking what we see. Perhaps one of these methods will work. After all, we don’t need to understand every single facet of something in order to make it work. We also expect the final leap to AGI to be accomplished by AI itself. So why is getting there so hard in the first place?
For one, we are still limited by computing power. It seems ridiculous considering how stupidly powerful computers today really are, but it’s true— while the most powerful supercomputers have exceeded the expected operations-per-second done by the brain, these computers still cost hundreds of millions of dollars. We need to bring that cost down if we want to make AI research practical.
But forget about the cost for a moment. Let’s pretend DeepMind had TaihuLight in their possession and could utilize every FLOPS for its own purposes. Would we see major breakthroughs in AI? Of course. But would we see human-level AI? Not even close.
“But they’re DeepMind! Their AI has beaten the human champion at Go a decade before the experts said it could be done! How do they still lack AGI?”
For one, that’s not entirely true— experts said a computer could become the world champion at Go by 2016 if there were sufficient funding put into the problem. And sufficient funding did indeed arrive.
But more importantly, while DeepMind’s accomplishments cannot be overstated, they haven’t actually brought us any closer to human-level AGI.
I want you to marvel at the human brain. It’s a fine thing.
Here is a metal table. On top of this metal table are two brains. One is a newborn baby’s brain, and next to it is the brain of Stephen Hawking. Don’t worry, we’ll return the brains to their rightful owners after this blog post. But I want you to think about what these brains are capable of.
The newborn brain is already a powerful computer that’s learning every single second, forming new neural pathways as it experiences life. Mr. Hawking’s brain is a triple-A machine of cosmic proportions, always thinking and never resting.
Except these two facts are dirty lies. The brains before you aren’t doing anything of the sort. The newborn baby’s brain is not forming any new connections. Hawking’s brain isn’t thinking. And why? Because they are disembodied. They are no longer experiencing any senses, and the senses necessary to make thoughts even work are no longer there. They’re both equal in terms of active intelligence— zero.
If you asked the newborn baby’s brain to add two and two, you’d just look like a fool because you’re talking to a tiny little blob of fat. Even if you asked Hawking’s brain the same question, you’d never get an answer. They can’t answer that question— they’re just brains. They don’t have ears to hear you. They don’t have eyes to see you. They don’t have mouths or hands to respond to you. You do not exist to them.
Despite what fiction may proclaim, brains are not actually ‘sentient’ without their bodies. A brain can’t “see” you or “respond” to you if you ask it a question, even if you stick it into a jar full of culture fluids.
If you hook up a screen and a keyboard to that brain, would you then have a proper sensory input in order to get the outputs of the newborn and Mr. Hawking? Of course not— brains did not evolve to be literal computers. You can’t just stick a plug into a brain and expect it to behave just like your desktop. In order to bring these two brains back to life, you’d need to construct whole bodies around their functions. And not just one or two of their functions— all of them.
So the point is: you can’t just take a human brain, set it out on a desk, and treat it like a fully-intelligent person. If you had Descartes’ Evil Demon or the Brain in a Vat, you could develop the brain until it possessed intelligence in a simulated reality, but the brain itself can do nothing for you. It sounds utterly insane to even contemplate.
Yet, for whatever reason, this is how we treat computers. We think that, if we had a computer with deep reinforcement recurrent spiked progressive neural networks and 3D graphene quantum memristors (insert more buzzwords here), we’d have AGI. In fact, you could have the servers running Skynet brought into real life, and you’d still not see AGI if your idea of making it intelligent is simply to feed it internet data.
Without sensory experiences, that computer will never achieve human-level intelligence. That’s not to say that we could achieve human-level AI today if we took ASIMO and decked it out with sensors, but the gist is that it would be foolish to ever expect synthetic intelligence surpassing humans by treating a computer to the furthest thing from human experiences.
And so we return to the Sensory Orb. The Orb itself is not natively intelligent. It’s no more intelligent than your desktop computer (circa 2027). But, unlike your desktop, it is fitted with a whole body of sensory inputs. The more it experiences, the more it body ‘evolves’ sensory outputs.
It is programmed to like being touched and tickled. Thus, if you tickle it, it will grow to like you. If you pinch its skin, it will roll away from you. Of course, it has to learn how to roll away first, but it quickly learns. If you keep pleasing it or abusing it, its visual senses will recognize you and either run to or away from you on sight. It has many preprogrammed instincts, including knowledge of “eating”. It knows how to find its charger, but if you bring it to its charger, it will grow to like you even more.
And if you teach the orb how to communicate with you through speech, you can teach it various commands. With enough training, the orb will learn to ask about itself. It can learn about other Sensory Orbs, learn about computers and flesh, learn about sensory experiences, and learn that it has its own body that allows it to ‘live’. So one day, you may be surprised if it asks about itself.
Is this human-level intelligence? Not necessarily, but it’s far closer to anything we have today. And we don’t necessarily need a real-life Sensory Orb to achieve this— a good-enough virtual simulation can also suffice. But nevertheless, the point remains: in order to achieve AGI, computers need to experience things..