A childrens‘ story about artificial intelligence.
Not very long ago, some of the smartest people in the world met. They all came to a beautiful place right by the ocean, called Asilomar, where they were going to spend a few days talking about a very important thing.
These people had many different jobs. Among them were inventors, politicians, wealthy investors and even actors. The scientists among them did something very exciting for a living: they taught robots how to think. And that was the reason everyone was meeting. Everything needs rules to work right, and they wanted to find out the best rules for thinking robots.
It was lunchtime on the first day. The big group had just finished introducing everyone, and came out of the large hall. A very rich man, a scientist and an actor decided to go grab lunch together. They walked out of the building and found a small path on the beach that led into town.
The scientist had already filled a whole notebook with her thoughts. She was excited to share them. The rich man saw the notebook and smiled at her. He didn’t like taking notes, because he was used to his employees doing that for him. He was totally alone at this conference, so he was glad someone else had written things down. The actor was too tired to act glad. His shoulders were down, and he didn’t want to talk.
“What’s wrong? Are you feeling down?”, the scientist asked.
“I’m okay, I just feel like I don’t belong here.”, the actor answered.
The rich man laughed. “You’re right! What does an actor have to do here? I worked hard to pay for this conference.”
The actor looked even sadder, so the scientist frowned at the rich man.
The scientist said, “Don’t worry. You’re in exactly the right place! We need all kinds of people to think about problems.”
“But why?”, the actor asked.
“Because, if people only think about things they are good at, they sometimes run out of good ideas. So we need to ask other people what they think!”, she answered. “If we only asked other scientists about thinking robots, this conference would be really boring.”
The actor smiled.
“I look forward to finding out how you filled your notebook!”, he said.
The rich man stayed quiet.
The three of them walked into a small café by the oceanside, sat down and ordered sandwiches. The scientist opened her notebook and looked at her notes.
“So, why do we need rules for thinking robots?”, asked the rich man.
“Well, you two think, right?”, the scientist asked. The other two nodded, slowly. “We don’t know it, but all of us have rules in our head for how we think, too.”
“We do? Where did they come from?”, the actor asked.
“When you grew up, older people told you what is good and bad. Your parents, your teachers, maybe your religion. You don’t notice it, but everything you think and do comes from those things people told you.”, she answered.
The actor said, “That makes sense! When I play a part on stage, I try to think like the character I’m playing. So I think of how he must have grown up, and that helps me act better!”
“I make my own rules.”, the rich man said, looking very proud. 1
Albert Bozesan 23.08.2018
The actor started to say, “No, you don’t”, but the scientist stopped him and said, “You do make your own rules, too! And that’s what makes our meeting so important. You see, if robots get smart enough, they will come up with rules of their own. And we don’t know what those rules will be.”
“That’s really scary…”, the actor said.
“Don’t worry, that’s why we’re here today. We can help make robots think like us.”
“Very good!”, said the rich man. “The world would be a better place if robots thought like me. And if they looked like me.” He grinned.
The three laughed and ate their sandwiches. Then they went back to Asilomar, to get some fresh ideas. They came back the next day, to keep talking.
“Yesterday, I thought I understood what we were talking about. But there are a lot of ways to think. How do we know what to tell the robots?”, the actor asked.
The scientist nodded and said, “Good question. There are lots of people with many different ways of thinking, and some people think bad things.”
“That’s easy. Just pick someone who thinks only good things, and copy his rules!”, the rich man suggested. “Like Abraham Lincoln, or the Dalai Lama!”
“But then robots wouldn’t think like my grandmother, and she thinks good things, too…”, the actor said.
“That’s why we are all here. Today, some other scientists and I started working on some rules that every person can use to build good-thinking robots, no matter where they are from. Look!”, the scientist said, and opened her notebook.
They looked at the page. It was full of ideas and thoughts, all of which looked really complicated. It said things like “Judicial Transparency” and “Non-subversion”. The rich man and the actor pretended to understand everything they saw.
“I know it looks complicated, but writing things like this is very important. It means that if scientists from any place read it, they understand it immediately. Otherwise, we might have trouble putting the right rules in our robots. What I’ve learned from you guys is in here, too, and helped us a lot.”
The two men looked closer at the notes.
The scientist said, “Like this rule here: ‘economic prosperity’ – that just means that if people make money with thinking robots, that money is used to help everybody.”
The rich man smiled.
The scientist said to the actor, “And you told me how you work on yourself, to try to be a better actor. That’s this one: ‘recursive self-improvement’. It means that the robots can make themselves smarter, too.”
The actor was very happy that he had helped.
On the last day, the three of them had lunch in silence. They thought hard about what they had learned. It was a tough thing to work on, and they were all very tired.
Later that night, the actor walked down to the beach and looked at the sunset. He had learned about a lot of rules for the past few days. The actor tried to remember all of them, and he was good at remembering things by heart. But in the end, he decided he didn’t really need to know. All of the rules had one thing in common, and he would try to think of it as often as he could.
It was very easy to remember, after all: be human.