What will happen when robots become smarter than humans

Everything is going to change.

Everything is going to change.

World View

The term ‘Singularity’ was first used in the technological sense (as opposed to its definition within physics) by Hungarian American mathematician John von Neumann.

In 1958, he said “ever accelerating progress of technology and changes in the mode of human life, which gives the appearance of approaching some essential singularity in the history of the race beyond which human affairs, as we know them, can not continue.”

An ‘intelligence explosion’ will allow machines to make better machines.

An 'intelligence explosion' will allow machines to make better machines.

DNA Films/Film4/Universal Pictures

In a 1965 essay [PDF], mathematician I. J. Good predicted that machines will eventually be able to create better machines.

His full quote:

Let an ultraintelligent machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the
intellectual activities of any man however clever.

Since the design of machines is one of these intellectual activities, an ultraintelligent machine could design even better machines; there would then unquestionably be an “intelligence explosion”, and the intelligence of man would be left far behind.

Thus the first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make.

No less a mind than Stephen Hawking is freaked out by it.

If AI becomes better at designing AI than humans, we’ll hit an intelligence explosion that  “ultimately results in machines whose intelligence exceeds ours by more than ours exceeds that of snails,” Hawking said in a recent Reddit AMA.


The machines are (maybe) going to take over.

The machines are (maybe) going to take over.

“The Imitation Game”

Alan Turing, the visionary British mathematician played by Benedict Cumberbatch in “The Imitation Game,” took a grim view of the singularity.

Not only would machines out-think us, he said, but they’d have no use for us.

“One the machine thinking method had started, it would not take long to outstrip our feeble powers,” he wrote in a 1951 paper.

“There would be no question of the machines dying, and they would be able to converse with each other to sharpen their wits,” he wrote. “At some stage therefore we should have to expect the machines to take control.”

Some scholars think that the Singularity will be the moment when humans find their successors.

Turing’s ideas about artificial intelligence as a kind of evolution were furthered by Carnegie Mellon University roboticist Hans Moravec, who says that artificially intelligent machines are going to “succeed” humanity.

In “Mind Children: The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence,” Moravec predicts that robots will become an artificial species by the 2030s or 2040s. In the same way thathomo sapiens are distinct but related to less intelligent apes, these artificial life forms will rise from us — but be distinct from us.

It’s the “heirs to humanity” situation spelled out in the awesome “Battlestar Galactica” and other sci-fi stories. Artificial life may spring from our intelligence, but won’t have use for it.

Artificial intelligence may find that there’s no real use for humanity.

 Artificial intelligence may find that there's no real use for humanity.

Star Wars

SpaceX founder Elon Musk is investing in artificial intelligence.

He’s said that it’s “‘potentially more dangerous than nukes,” in a tweet, and recommended reading Nick Bostrom’s“Superintelligence” to understand why.

Bostrom, the founder of Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute, says that the artificial intelligence promised by the Singularity would end life as we know it. It’s like Turing’s predictions taken to the maximum.

“There are huge existential threats, these are threats to the very survival of life on Earth, from machine intelligence,” he said in an interview.

In “Superintelligence,” he says that post-Singularity Earth could end up being “a society of economic miracles and technological awesomeness, with nobody there to benefit … A Disneyland without children.”


The economy is going to go bananas.

George Mason University economist Robin Hanson says that there have been at least two other singularities in human history —what we now call the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions.

The next revolution — the technological singularity — would be the postmodern equivalent of those world-historic events,he says, with total economic growth speeding up by 60 to 250 times the current rate.

“The world economy, which now doubles in 15 years or so, would soon double in somewhere from a week to a month,” he says.

If things go well, we could end human death.

If things go well, we could end human death.


Cambridge gerontologist Aubrey de Grey is convinced we’re going to end aging. In fact, he says the first immortal has probably been already born.

De Gray says we’ll escape aging by finding therapies that can “repair the molecular and cellular damage of aging” so that people can stop becoming “biologically older.”

The years might go by, but your body won’t notice it.

And we’ll be able to bring people back.

And we'll be able to bring people back.

Gili Gordon/EyeEm/Getty Images

Google futurist Ray Kurzweil has said multiple times that he’ll be able to “bring back” his father Frederick Kurzweil through artificial intelligence.

He believes that by the 2030s, we’ll be able to send nanobots into people’s brains to extract memories of loved ones. Kurzweil says that by combining that information with the information in the deceased’s DNA, it will be possible to create a convincing virtual version of somebody who’s passed on.

The tech startup Humai has also said that its goal is to “resurrect” a human within 30 years. Not as a virtual reality avatar, but as an artificially intelligent robotic being.

Nanobots will plug our brains directly into the Internet.

Nanobots will plug our brains directly into the Internet.

Bruce Wetzel/Wikimedia Commons

Kurzweil is really into nanobots, tiny robots that could go straight into our brains and modify consciousness, leading to brain-to-brain communication and instant learning (like in the Matrix).

If we can plug our minds directly into the cloud — which some say is farfetched — then we’ll be able to live forever. Virtually.