Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo

 

Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

The last two paragraphs apply not only to AI and ET, but also describe features of the human mind that affect decision making in many of us at times–lack of motivation and drive, and paralysis of decision making in the face of too many possible choices. But it gets worse: we know that a motivation can be hijacked by options that simulate the satisfaction that the motivation is aimed toward. Substance addictions plague tens of millions of people in the United States alone, and addictions to more subtle things, including certain kinds of information (such as e-mail), are prominent too. And few arts are more challenging than passing on motivation to the next generation, for the pursuit of a big idea. Intelligences that invent more and more interesting and absorbing technologies, that can better grab and hold their attention, while reducing impact on the world, might enter the opposite of a singularity.

What is the opposite of a singularity? The singularity depends on a mathematical recursion: invent a superintelligence, and then it will invent an even more powerful superintelligence. But as any mathematics student knows, there are other outcomes of an iterated process, such as a fixed point. A fixed point is a point that, when a function is applied, gives you the same point again. Applying such a function to points near the fixed point will often send them toward the fixed point.

A “societal fixed point” might therefore be defined as a state that self-reinforces, remaining in the status quo–which could in principle be peaceful and self-sustaining, but could also be extremely boring–say, involving lots of people plugged into the Internet watching videos forever. Thus, we as humans might want, sometime soon, to start laying out design rules for technologies so that they will motivate us to some high goal or end–or at least away from dead-end societal fixed points. This process will involve thinking about how technology could help confront an old question of philosophy–namely, “What should I do, given all these possible paths?” Perhaps it is time for an empirical answer to this question, derived from the properties of our brains and the universe we live in.

69 comments. Share your thoughts »

Credit: Technology Review

Tagged: Biomedicine, brain, artificial intelligence, extraterrestrial life, intelligence

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives

Close

Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me