Comment to the National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenges for Engineering

Bill Hibbard

15 Jan 2007

Discoveries and inventions are the product of intelligence, so the ultimate challenge facing humans is the development of machines significantly more intelligent than themselves. Although the scientific and engineering challenge is great, it will almost certainly be met within the next 100 years. The real challenge will be social: to preserve those aspects of our humanity that we value despite the social upheaval that artificial intelligence will create. Scientists and engineers have a responsibility to educate the public about the issues and to help maintain a rational discussion in the face of strong emotional reactions. For example, intelligent machines will perform every job better and more cheaply than humans, resulting in effectively 100 percent unemployment. How will we distribute the great wealth created by highly productive machines when no one can earn an income by labor? All humans have roughly the same intelligence. But intelligent machines, and humans whose brains are enhanced by such machines, will have widely varying intelligence in the same way that ships, buildings, bridges and current computers have widely varying capacities. Natural humans will not be able to understand the languages spoken by the most intelligent machines and enhanced humans. Will the legal rights of humans vary depending on their intelligence? Whereas natural humans are limited to knowing about 200 other humans well, machines and enhanced humans will have the capacity to know millions or billions of humans well, giving them great power to predict and manipulate economics and politics. Scientists and engineers have a vital role to play in meeting the social challenge associated with their ultimate invention.