Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Wirehead Problem and Money as AI

Here is a potential problem facing engineers of artificial intelligence: A sufficiently intelligent agent will work to tap its reward source directly, without doing otherwise useful work.  In this video Tim Tyler invokes the heroin addict for comparison. He concludes that a superintelligent agent will calculate the long-term effects of becoming a junkie and likely will conclude, as most people do, that it's not worth it.

Tyler goes on to counter this argument by conjuring a monopolistic threat.  What if the superintelligent agent wiped out its competitors?  Then, under the dynamics of a monopoly, it would grow flabby and careless, because there would be no reward in making effort in any other direction. And this situation would become conducive to its yielding to the tempation to become a junkie.

It looks like the threat already has landed. The U.S. dollar/federal reserve note is the superintelligent agent Tyler warns against. The U.S. dollar has tapped it own pleasure center, and in an accelerating cycle of masturbations it has exhausted itself.

Each step in the deregulation of the U.S. banking system brought the dollar closer to its source. Finally, when the real-estate bubble burst, the fallout revealed that the originators of money, the private banks, had crossed a deregulatory threshold, and they had exploited the lifting of essentially all conditions on the granting of loans. Because banks originate dollars by crediting loans, unconditional lending became the U.S. dollar's unfettered tap into its own pleasure center, its source. Now the junkie is going through withdrawal. And if the U.S. dollar gets fired from its job as the world's reserve currency, losing its monopoly privileges? Cold turkey.

Money as superintelligent agent reveals a bias in AI theory, or at least in AI practice, insofar as AI focuses on circuits and programs and patterns of atoms. But money is pure abstraction. It can take any form: seashells, printed paper or electronic accounting entries. Higher intelligence doesn't get bogged down in precise material specifications. It is conceptual.

Consider that money can do many things that you cannot. Indeed, it uses you, and the rest of us, to do its bidding. It is not an enabler, as we're taught to think. We are its enablers.  Look at the wonders it has created with our help.

The terrors that it has instigated? Our myth systems teem with wrathful deities and gods of destruction. Maybe the religious sensibility knows something about the superintelligent abstraction that provokes and persuades and thereby gives form to the world. G-d is a junkie?