Recursive Self-Improvement in Human Civilization

Let’s consider Arabic numerals as compared with Roman numerals. With a positional notation system, such as the one created by Arabic numerals, it’s easier to perform multiplication and division; if you’re competing in a multiplication contest, Arabic numerals provide you with an advantage. But I wouldn’t say that someone using Arabic numerals is smarter than someone using Roman numerals. By analogy, if you’re trying to tighten a bolt and use a wrench, you’ll do better than someone who has a pair of pliers, but it wouldn’t be fair to say you’re stronger. You have a tool that offers you greater mechanical advantage; it’s only when we give your competitor the same tool that we can fairly judge who is stronger. Cognitive tools such as Arabic numerals offer a similar advantage; if we want to compare individuals’ intelligence, they have to be equipped with the same tools.

Simple tools make it possible to create complex ones; this is just as true for cognitive tools as it is for physical ones. Humanity has developed thousands of such tools throughout history, ranging from double-entry bookkeeping to the Cartesian coördinate system. So, even though we aren’t more intelligent than we used to be, we have at our disposal a wider range of cognitive tools, which, in turn, enable us to invent even more powerful tools.

This is how recursive self-improvement takes place—not at the level of individuals but at the level of human civilization as a whole. I wouldn’t say that Isaac Newton made himself more intelligent when he invented calculus; he must have been mighty intelligent in order to invent it in the first place. Calculus enabled him to solve certain problems that he couldn’t solve before, but he was not the biggest beneficiary of his invention—the rest of humanity was. Those who came after Newton benefitted from calculus in two ways: in the short term, they could solve problems that they couldn’t solve before; in the long term, they could build on Newton’s work and devise other, even more powerful mathematical techniques.


Folksonomies: technology intelligence ai cognitive tools

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Decimal (0.733197): dbpedia_resource
Mathematics (0.597851): dbpedia_resource
Positional notation (0.596697): dbpedia_resource
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 Why Computers Won't Make Themselves Smarter
Periodicals>Magazine Article:  Chiang, Ted (03/30/2021), Why Computers Won't Make Themselves Smarter, New Yorker, Retrieved on 2021-09-24
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  • Folksonomies: technology intelligence ai


    24 SEP 2021

     Can AI Make Something Greater than Itself?

    The Ultraintelligent Machine will be Civilization's Last Invention > Contrast > Recursive Self-Improvement in Human Civilization
    Humans can't make smarter humans, but we can make cognitive tools to help other humans. Computers do make faster computers without human intervention, but is that the same as an AI making a smarter AI?