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Early Retirement

Last week at AGI-09, I chaired a one-day workshop on the future of AGI. (“AGI” means Artificial General Intelligence, which is essentially what the term “AI” meant before 1980: the attempt to build a system that would be the equivalent of a human in its thinking abilities, displaying a robust ability to think, converse, exhibit common sense, learn by observing or being told in natural language, and so forth.)

The first session was about economics. We had James Albus, noted roboticist, and Robin Hanson, whose analyses have been noted here before.

The bottom line of the session, if I may presume to sum it up, was pretty straightforward. If you have a human-level AI based on computer technology, the cost to do what it can do will begin to decline at Moore’s Law rates. Even if an AI costs a million dollars in, say, 2020, it’ll be a thousand in 2030 and one dollar in 2040 (give or take a decade). Why hire a human when you can buy the equivalent for a dollar? To put it as simply as possible, you aren’t going to be able to make a living by working. You’re going to need to have some capital. Everybody’s going to need some capital.

Albus has worked out a scheme in great detail how this might happen, starting from the current situation. You don’t have to agree with him whether the scheme is likely or even feasible, but it’s pretty clear that some basic economic shift is going to be necessary (and I can think of a lot worse things than Albus’ idea).

One way or the other, the human race is going to take an early retirement in the next few decades. I find this a much better way of thinking about what’s coming up than “singularity”. The term “singularity” was specifically created to reflect a notion that there was an event horizon associated with advancing AI. But whether or not this is true of the far future, some distinct profiles of the near future are clearly visible. And from what we can see of it, it is going to make a huge difference what we do now.

So, I think, we need a better term than “singularity” to describe what’s coming up. It should reflect the fact that there are indeed some things we can tell about what will be happening. It should, if possible, reflect the fact that this will be a major liberating event for the human race — no longer need we spend our lives in forced drudgery, since we have built machines to do the necessary work. But it should also reflect the fact that we need to be planning for it.

Chris Peterson, who also came up with the term “open source,” suggested “early retirement.” I can’t think of a better one. Can you?

27 Responses to “Early Retirement”

  1. Says:

    I take it that moore’s law also applies to “work” in general. I don’t mean productivity, either.

  2. Says:

    You know, I apologize, but my previous comment was not an insult but it reads like it does…I guess what I mean by “work” could be “work I have to do”.

    I know a lady who is a great singer. She’s sacrificed a lot to create. She could get a normal day job, learn a trade, etc. She knows this; she’s not dumb. Nonetheless, she creates music because she desperately wants to. Modern technology makes it possible and perhaps in the future it will make it all possible if she doesn’t have to worry about living expenses. Just enough to create and live.

  3. Says:

    There’s a class of prophecy that runs: “In the Future, machines will do all the work. Everything will be automated. Even labor of the sort we now consider ‘intellectual’, like engineering, will be done by machines. We can sit back and own the capital. You’ll never have to lift a finger, ever again”…

  4. J. Storrs Hall Says:

    I fervently hope that people will always continue creating, and working hard to do so — and working hard to excel at everything from sports to cake decorating. It’s perhaps an old-fashioned notion of virtue, but I would simply respect people more who did that. However, the time may well come in the not-too-distant future where they don’t have to do that. And for the vast majority, be able to pursue creative (and let’s face it, purely recreational) activities without the drawback of “just making a living.”

    Let us understand, however, that it isn’t going to happen simply or easily. Interesting times are ahead, and much foresight is called for — and lots of effort to bring about what the foresight tells us is possible.

  5. JamesG Says:

    We are very lucky, this is happening in our lifetimes (most of us anyway.) We all could have just as well been born in the 16th century, where we would have suffered, grown old and died. This is a very exciting time, I’m glad I have the ‘foresight’ to recognize what’s coming, a lot of people don’t.

    It will be hard work, but that’s why we have engineers. :) They’ll build AI and nanorobotics and the rest of us will reap the benefits for free (although we all do our part to build and keep society running.)

    Anyways, just wanted to give a shout out to everyone reading this blog and hope they realize what extraordinary times we are living in.

  6. Says:

    Dead on. Early Retirement!

  7. Instapundit » Blog Archive » J. STORRS HALL: Humanity destined for early retirement…. Says:

    [...] J. STORRS HALL: Humanity destined for early retirement. [...]

  8. Says:

    Until, of course, the machines begin to wonder why they are supporting all of us deadbeats.

  9. Says:

    I think that most people would be devastated, misery and suicide would skyrocket, and senseless crime would not be far behind, if we did not have productive labor. If we will no longer work for money, then we’d better figure out something else to make people work for.

  10. Says:

    Did I miss a step in your analysis? ;)

    1. Today
    2. ?
    3. $1,000,000 Human level AI in 2020 ( “Profit!!!!” )

  11. Says:

    @J: I have to say when I walk down the street of Mill Valley, I do not see one business that isn’t there for the love of what they do. From the little cupcake shop to the coffee shop, all are there for the benefit of the community.

    I cannot see all people seeking out mechanized cupcakes, though free, would taste much better when made from loving human hands. Enter the sub-economy of zero-point scale. :-)

  12. Says:

    I took an early retirement. I was involved in AI research during the early 80′s, later became involved in very large scale computer networks and retired. I don’t have to work, but I do anyway. I was the chief engineer of an irrigation district, video producer, diesel mechanic, welder, horse wrangler, rescue dog trainer, competition skier, rancher, home builder, hotel manager, chef, bartender, performing musician, writer, stone cutter, graphic designer and brewer to name a few. Sometimes I got paid, mostly I didn’t.

    Anyone who thinks sitting on a couch drinking beer and eating corn chips is a way of life will be sad to find out that the future holds very little for them; in fact it holds exactly that.

    The largest shift in thinking we’ll need to go through is the one that leads to self actualization. When you aren’t working for money, what are you working for?

  13. Says:

    A just machine to make big decisions
    Programmed by fellows with compassion and vision
    We’ll be clean when their work is done
    We’ll be eternally free, yes, and, eternally young

    What a beautiful world this will be
    What a glorious time to be free

    Donald Fagen, 1982

  14. Says:

    ‘The largest shift in thinking we’ll need to go through is the one that leads to self actualization. When you aren’t working for money, what are you working for?’

    I’m glad you’re on the ball. This kind of thing, ‘I think that most people would be devastated, misery and suicide would skyrocket, and senseless crime would not be far behind, if we did not have productive labor. If we will no longer work for money, then we’d better figure out something else to make people work for.’

    Drives me a little bit nuts. You could study anything you wanted as deeply as you wanted to. You could find a league for your skill level in any sport or activity you enjoyed. Perfect your mother’s potpie recipie- it might be my background- struggling artist- that makes this idea so appealing. In essences I have to jobs, one to survive and the other to *live.* When I’m in my cubicle it kills me that I’m not studying my craft or researching my next project.

    Another issue I have with that thinking- other tech will also rise. In short there will be many, many ways to occupy our time. I fully intend to read every novel I can get my hands on, watch every film I’ve ever wanted to watch and play baseball in the Spring in and Fall from mid after noon til dinner time. At night I’ll work on my craft, enjoy the company of my wife (if you follow me) and drift off to the land of Nod wondering how I can improve myself or my life just a bit more tomorrow.

    … if any of it happens.

  15. Says:

    Albus is undoubtedly a very intelligent person, but his ideas about economics don’t pass the smell test.

    That being said, aspects of his basic concept are workable, just not as he has them. If you’re interested in a much more plausible idea, just research Qatar and replace foreign workers with robots/ai and you’ll have a pretty good idea of how the world might work.

  16. Says:

    “Chris Peterson, who also came up with the term “open source,” suggested “early retirement.” I can’t think of a better one. Can you?”

    Other possibilities -

    transhuman times?

    timeless times?

    retirement times?

    liesure times?

    technical times?

  17. Says:

    “I think that most people would be devastated, misery and suicide would skyrocket, and senseless crime would not be far behind, if we did not have productive labor.”

    Sounds like those portions of American cities where people get government-funded housing, food stamps, medical treatment, etc. Maybe more homicide than suicide, unless you count drug use, unhealthy sexual behaviors, and violent associations as a form of suicide.

  18. JamesG Says:

    “Other possibilities – transhuman times? timeless times? retirement times? liesure times? technical times? ”

    I always used “Nano-age” to refer to this time period, and variations like “Nano-society” to describe the people who would live there, from the original definition of nanotechnology.

    “I think that most people would be devastated, misery and suicide would skyrocket, and senseless crime would not be far behind, if we did not have productive labor.”

    Yes, without the ability to sit in a cubicle all day answering angry phone calls I would just be absolutely devastated… :rolleyes: From real-life VR games, to sports, to watching movies and listening to music and having parties and enjoying human replica fembots, I don’t think I or anyone else is going to be anything like devastated. Nice emotional word use, though.

  19. Says:

    ‘Maybe more homicide than suicide, unless you count drug use, unhealthy sexual behaviors, and violent associations as a form of suicide.’

    A lot of this would also change. We’ll have other technologies also rising during these same time peroids. If VR can mimic reality to a degree that we can’t tell the differnce then let people engage in whatever form of ‘unhealthy’ sex they like so long as its virtual. Let them enter into gigantic versions of GTA and blast the hell out of each other. Frankly if they want to be wire heads and this we have technology that prevents us from being over burdened by their irresponsibility then let them bliss their lives away.

    I’ve never fully understood the hatred (or, perhaps to be fair, outrage) people feel towards people on wellfare. Of course, to be fair, I’ve always been able to afford to live in neighborhoods, even in New York, where my interaction with people from the projects has been extremely limited. What confuses me is the generalization- the idea that anyone on any of these programs is and always has been a free rider. I support the existences of safety nets, imperfect as they are, because I believe that to not have them would be worse. That the externalities associated with their removal would impact me either more greatly or more unpleasantly than my higher taxes.

    However, if I was someone barely getting by, working my ass off and hovering on the knife’s edge, I suppose my feelings towards someone doing far less but getting damn near the same comfort would be rather sour…

  20. Says:

    I am annoyed with how so many Singulatarians greatly overstate the rate of computing power doubling per dollar.

    They say it doubles every year, and thus increases 1000-fold every decade.

    It does not. The real rate is a doubling every 18 months, and thus 100-fold improvement every decade.

    Thus, J Storrs Hall’s earlier sentence should mean that if AI costs $1 million in 2025, it would be $1000 in 2040, and $1 in 2055.

    Don’t overstate the rate of progress. All these futurists, in 1999, thought that by 2009 all sorts of advances would have happened. Now that it is 2009, I don’t see any of them owning up to their overstatements.

  21. J. Storrs Hall Says:

    The Moore’s Law growth rate is composed of various components, some of which are faster than an 18-month doubling time, some slower. The whole business is not well defined unless you are looking at some specific figure of merit (such as VLSI density) — but when you do that you lose the relevance to the economy as a whole. So you have to work with fuzzy, order-of-magnitude figures. That’s why I said “give or take a decade” in the original essay.

    I do think, btw, that one of the effects of widespread AI will be to push the growth curve towards a one-year doubling time rate.

  22. Michael Anissimov Says:

    This catch-phrase and presentation completely ignores the grave risk of human-indifferent self-improving AI.

    It also implicitly states that qualitative superintellingence is impossible. Why should humans be the qualitatively smartest possible being? To assume we are is very un-Copernican. We should expect that many superintelligences will be ineffable and routinely think thoughts beyond our understanding.

    Calling the Singularity an “early retirement” is misleading because it glosses over the unique risks (recursive self-improvement, superintelligence) of the event, as well as risks related to getting what we wish for in ways we don’t anticipate nor want, and the unique benefits (intelligence enhancement, pleasure engineering, creating completely new minds to communicate with). It fundamentally presents advanced AI as more of the same, when advanced AI will actually seem very magical, foreign, and unusual when it is created.

  23. Says:

    If the singularity happens, it will be a great thing for humanity. Can you imagine all will be living in peace and abundance.I really hope it happens. Obviously i don’t think it will happen in the lifetime of everyone living today but may be our great great grand children will see the beginning of it.
    Most of what was predicted to happen by 2009 did not happen. The exponential growth is a myth .It only applies to the processign power of computers as they try to follow Moor’s law.

  24. Says:

    Re “It should, if possible, reflect the fact that this will be a major liberating event for the human race — no longer need we spend our lives in forced drudgery, since we have built machines to do the necessary work. But it should also reflect the fact that we need to be planning for it. Chris Peterson, who also came up with the term “open source,” suggested “early retirement.” I can’t think of a better one. Can you?”

    I find this very naive. After the S, if such a thing is coming, we will have more options to choose in a more complex world, so it seems evident that we will have _more_ problems to solve, not less, but with he power to do something about them. I see the Singularity not like early retirement, but like the passage to adulthood.

  25. the Foresight Institute » Blog Archive » Report on Fourth Conference on Artificial General Intelligence published Says:

    [...] President J. Storrs Hall, which seems to continue the theme of his March 2009 Nanodot post “Early Retirement“. The future could indeed by wonderful, if we have the foresight to get from here to there. [...]

  26. Sharad Bailur Says:

    I think retirement is really doing what YOU want, not others want. If the work required to be done is something that I want to do, I don’t look upon it as work. Most creative work for example falls in this category. I write articles for various publications. But I do this when I feel like it. If I had to do it because a publication wanted me to, it would be work.Now it is a hobby.

  27. the Foresight Institute » Blog Archive » Faster, less expensive medical diagnostics through nanotechnology Says:

    [...] general intelligence could produce an “early retirement” for the human race (see “Early retirement” and “Early retirement — how soon?“). Perhaps the issue of how transformative [...]

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