A bet about conscious machines

common-sense, Einstein

The estimable Robin Hanson and I are reviewing each other’s books.  We disagree with each other about almost everything, which is great.  I admire Robin’s ability to disagree strongly without a trace of animosity.

The bet arose because of the following passage in my new book, The Economic Singularity:

Geoff Hinton – the man whose team won the landmark 2012 ImageNet competition – went further.  In May 2015 he said that he expects machines to demonstrate common sense within a decade.

(Here is a report of Hinton saying that.)

Robin is famously sceptical about the rapid progress of AI, thinking it is grossly over-stated.  He thinks there is no chance at all that machines will have common sense by 23 July 2026.  And so we have agreed a wager.  He has generously given me 50-to-1 odds, so if Hinton is wrong I pay Robin $100, and Hinton is right, Robin pays me $5,000.  (He’s a tenured professor at a prestigious US university, so that kind of money is loose change to him.)

What do we mean by common sense?  I’m not sure it’s a concept capable of precise definition, but you know it when you see it.  Here’s one description, from the next paragraph in my book:  

Common sense can be described as having a mental model of the world which allows you to predict what will happen if certain actions are taken. Professor Murray Shanahan of Imperial College uses the example of throwing a chair from a stage into an audience: humans would understand that members of the audience would throw up their hands to protect themselves, but some damage would probably be caused, and certainly some upset. A machine without common sense would have very little idea of what would happen.

Rather than try to negotiate a precise definition of common sense, Robin and I have agreed to appoint an impartial judge- David Wood, chair of the London Futurist group.

To be clear, common sense falls a long way short of consciousness, or of artificial general intelligence.

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7 thoughts on “A bet about conscious machines

  1. Would not a world were machines demonstrate commons sense also very likely be so socially and economically dramatically transformed by the activities of those machines that $5000 would be of little use? A possible reply is that we might by 2026 only have a few machines with common sense confined to research labs not yet out in the economy. But as a counter to that is it seems that near or not far from common sense machines would be sufficient for radical social transformation and it seems unlikely that we jump from not even close to common sense machines to common sense machines without intermediaries that are put to use in the economy.

  2. Yes, I think that once machines with common sense have been created they will become available to governments, companies and individuals pretty fast.

    But it is by no means certain that wealth and assets will become irrelevant in that world, so I hope I do win the $5,000! 🙂

  3. Common sense in artificial intelligence… by 2026? | A bunch of data

  4. Machine can not percept the main norm and values of society. Learning it deeply can take some but understanding of sense will be very very tough. After learning sense it could be taught common sense which is more elaborate.

  5. Episode 052: Calum Chace on Centaurs and Aristocrats – Singularity Bros

  6. Betting on technological unemployment – Pandora's Brain

  7. No-one has mentioned the elephant in the room, Self Awareness? that is the one distinctive element that separates us from robots, and it will be the highest hurdle of the whole subject

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