Vitalik Buterin: AI may surpass humans as the ‘apex species’

Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin warns that even Mars might not be safe if AI turns against humanity. Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin believes super-advanced artificial intelligence has a “serious chance” of surpassing humans and becoming the next “apex species” on our planet. But, he says, it all comes down to how humans might intervene in AI growth.

Buterin, regarded by some as a thought leader in the cryptocurrency space, argued in a Nov. 27 blog post that AI is “fundamentally different” from other recent inventions, such as social media, contraception, aeroplanes, guns, the wheel, and the printing press, because AI can create a new type of “mind” that can turn against human interests, adding: “AI is a new type of mind that is rapidly gaining in intelligence, and it stands a serious chance of

Buterin suggested that, unlike climate change, a man-made epidemic, or nuclear war, superintelligent AI has the ability to wipe out humanity and leave no survivors, especially if it comes to see humans as a threat to its own survival. 

“One way in which AI gone wrong could make the world worse is (almost) the worst possible way: it could literally cause human extinction.” Buterin cited a study of over 4,270 machine learning researchers conducted in August 2022, which predicted a 5-10% risk that AI will eliminate humanity. While Buterin emphasised that such statements are “extreme,” there are methods for people to prevail.

Brain interfaces and techno-optimism

Buterin proposed using brain-computer interfaces (BCI) to give people greater control over sophisticated AI-based computing and cognition. A BCI is a communication link between the electrical activity of the brain and an external device, such as a computer or robotic limb. Buterin claims that this would cut the two-way communication loop between man and machine from seconds to moments, while also ensuring humans retain some degree of “meaningful agency” over the world.

Buterin stated that taking this way would be “safer” since humans could be involved in every choice made by the AI computer. “We [can] reduce the incentive to offload high-level planning responsibility to the AI itself, and thereby reduce the chance that the AI does something totally unaligned with humanity’s values on its own.” The Ethereum co-founder also proposed “active human intention” to steer AI in a route that benefits humanity, as profit maximization does not always drive humans down the best path.

Buterin concluded that “we, humans, are the brightest star” in the universe, as we’ve developed technology to expand upon the human potential for thousands of years, and hopefully many more to come: “Two billion years from now if the Earth or any part of the universe still bears the beauty of Earthly life, it will be human artifices like space travel and geoengineering that will have made it happen.”

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