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Published:  12/18/2023

Contributors: Tim Mucci, Cole Stryker

What is artificial superintelligence?

Artificial superintelligence (ASI) is a hypothetical software-based artificial intelligence (AI) system with an intellectual scope beyond human intelligence. At the most fundamental level, this superintelligent AI has cutting-edge cognitive functions and highly developed thinking skills more advanced than any human.

While ASI is still a hypothetical future state, there are several technological processes we have today that form the building blocks of ASI. But first, to illustrate how far off ASI is from this moment, it bears mentioning that the current level of AI is often refered to as Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI), weak AI or narrow AI technologies. 

Weak AI excels at specific tasks like playing chess or translating languages, but it cannot learn new skills or develop a deep understanding of the world. It relies on pre-programmed algorithms and data and requires human intervention to operate.

Not all thinkers are aligned on the feasibility of something like an ASI. Human intelligence is the product of specific evolutionary factors and may not represent an optimal or universal form of intelligence. Moreover, the brain's workings are still not fully understood making it difficult to recreate via software and hardware.

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Is artificial superintelligence possible?

A big step toward developing an ASI would be to realize an artificial general intelligence (AGI) or Strong AI. An AGI is a next-generation AI system that can understand the world and learn and apply problem-solving intelligence as broadly and flexibly as a human can. AGI would be capable of cross-domain learning and reasoning with the ability to make connections across different fields. Just like ASI, true AGI has yet to be developed.

There are key technologies that must develop further before ASI becomes a reality. Here are some other processes that are the building blocks of artificial superintelligence. These disciplines would need to evolve further before ASI can become a reality.


Large language models (LLMs) and massive datasets

ASI would require access to massive datasets to learn and develop an understanding of the world; natural language processing (nlp) in LLMs will help ASI understand natural language and converse with humans.

Multisensory AI

To enable the ASI to process and interpret multiple types of data inputs—such as text, images, audio and video—to perform tasks or make decisions. This approach contrasts unimodal AI systems, specializing in processing only one data type, like text or images.

Neural networks

Essentially, these networks are made up of deep learning software modeled on how neurons operate within the human brain. ASI would need far more complex, powerful and advanced neural networks than the current generation.

Neuromorphic computing

Just as neural networks are modeled on human brain operations, neuromorphic computers are hardware systems inspired by the neural and synaptic structures of the human brain.

Evolutionary computation

This is a form of algorithmic optimization inspired by biological evolution. Evolutionary algorithms solve problems by iteratively improving a population of candidate solutions, mimicking the process of natural selection.

AI-generated programming

This refers to code, applications and programming generated by AI systems without human intervention.

Pathways to artificial superintelligence

Advancements in computer science, computational power and algorithms are a few of the key factors fueling speculation about ASI. However, simply having raw computational power isn't enough. One potential pathway to success lies in replicating the intricate workings of the human mind. Despite their limitations, human brains are incredibly complex and capable of remarkable creativity, problem-solving and critical thinking. AI, while exceeding human beings in certain areas, still struggles to match the human ability to learn and adapt to new situations.

Learning algorithms, inspired by how the human brain learns, enable AI to improve its performance over time. This continuous learning is crucial for achieving human-level intelligence, allowing AI to acquire knowledge and adapt to new situations without explicit programming.

Chatbots and generative AI also serve as valuable precursors to ASI. These technologies demonstrate the increasing sophistication of AI in understanding and responding to human language. While not sentient, this ability to understand and respond to human language in a natural way is a crucial building block for achieving human-level intelligence.

An ASI, in essence, would self-improve as it develops and learns. AI-generated inventions could bring innovations like new drugs, materials and energy sources. Seamless integration would further enable intuitive interaction with AI via spoken natural language or even through thought commands, necessitating breakthroughs in human-computer interaction akin to a technological singularity.

Benefits of artificial superintelligence

The technology that goes into developing an ASI would transform the way the world works at a fundamental level, and some say that ASI will be the last invention humanity will ever invent. The benefits of such a technology are science fiction-like in their implications. In essence, an ASI would be an inexhaustible, hyper-intelligent super-being. A nearly perfect supercomputer available 24/7, with the ability to process and analyze any amount of data with speed and precision that we can’t yet comprehend. 

With such capabilities, human agents could use ASI to make the best possible decisions and solve the most complex problems facing healthcare, finance, scientific research, politics and every industry. Such advanced thinking could be enough to solve the most persistent medical puzzles to develop life-saving medicines and treatments and unlock the mysteries of physics to aid humanity's goal of exploring the stars. With its ability to significantly reduce human errors, particularly in programming and risk management, ASI could write and debug programs and deploy robots to perform dangerous physical tasks like bomb defusing or deep-sea exploration.

Because ASI can operate continuously, it would be ideal for tasks like safely navigating networks of self-driving cars and assisting in space exploration. Furthermore, ASI's superior creativity and ability to analyze vast amounts of data might lead to solutions humans can't even imagine, resulting in, hopefully, better quality of life and perhaps even a prolonged life.

Potential risks of artificial superintelligence

Despite the incredible advancements ASI promises, scientists also warn of the danger inherent in such an invention. A core worry is that ASI could surpass human control and become self-aware, potentially leading to unforeseen consequences and even existential risks. Its superior cognitive abilities could allow it to manipulate systems or even gain control of advanced weapons.

The concerns we face with today's level of AI sophistication may become exponentially worse as automation through ASI leads to widespread unemployment, causing economic and social turmoil, exacerbating existing inequalities and disrupting entire industries.

In military and defense domains, ASI could develop potent and autonomous weapons, significantly increasing the destructive potential of warfare. Additionally, bad actors could exploit ASIs' advanced capabilities for nefarious purposes like social control, data collection and perpetuating biases. Finally, an ASI could also pursue goals existentially detrimental to humanity that may seem beneficial on the surface, but without proper interventions, its advanced systems might not align with human values.

Simply programming ASI with human ethics and morality is complex since there is no universally agreed-upon set of moral codes; doing so could lead to ethical dilemmas and potentially harmful consequences, especially if ASI begins to operate outside human control. The vast capabilities of ASI could lead to unpredictable and uncontrollable behavior. Its ability to learn and adapt rapidly could make anticipating its actions difficult and preventing potential harm.

It will be crucial to establish international regulations and safeguards to prevent such scenarios. Despite these potential dangers, the development of ASI also holds immense promise for solving complex problems and improving human lives. Approaching this technology with caution and responsibility is crucial, prioritizing AI safety and ethics throughout the development and deployment process.

Toward artificial superintelligence in the real world

Since ASI is still theoretical, science fiction represents the best examples of what superintelligent machines might be like, like the talking and reasoning droids in Star Wars, the hyper-intelligent and evolutionarily capable personal assistants in Her, the HAL computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey who can control the functions of an entire spaceship.

What we do have today are limited AI systems, primitive precursor applications to ASI that point to a future where a single ASI possesses all known AI capabilities and much more. Here are some use cases that serve as “building blocks.”

Conversational AI: Personal assistants like Amazon Alexa, Microsoft Cortana and Apple's Siri represent the forefront of conversational AI. An ASI would need to be able to speak human language fluently, dynamically and with a full understanding of its many nuances.

Recommendation engines: The machine learning used in recommendation algorithms, such as those used by Netflix, contains the data parsing and decision-making algorithms that could one day be a part of an ASI neural network.

Generative AI: Open AI’s ChatGPT uses a large language model trained on a massive dataset of text and code, allowing it to process and generate human language with remarkable fluency and accuracy. Its ability to understand the complexity of written sentences, engage in conversation and generate creative output like poems, scripts and music is crucial to achieving human-level intelligence.

Self-driving cars: Tesla has shown the potential of self-driving cars. Self-driving cars utilize a combination of sensors, cameras and powerful AI algorithms to navigate roads autonomously. The advanced perception and decision-making capabilities developed for self-driving cars are directly relevant to ASI. The ability to process complex sensory data and make real-time decisions in dynamic environments is a crucial aspect of general intelligence, a key goal of ASI research.

Healthcare: AI is also making significant strides in healthcare, with machine intelligence now analyzing medical images and data to assist doctors in diagnosing diseases. Companies like IBM Watson Health and DeepMind Health are developing AI-powered systems that can detect cancer, heart disease and other conditions with high accuracy. These advancements in medical AI are paving the way for developing even more sophisticated systems that could one day diagnose and treat diseases autonomously. The ability to process and interpret complex medical data is essential to achieving human-level or even superhuman medical expertise, a key area of interest in ASI research.

The potential impact of ASI is immense, with the potential to revolutionize various aspects of human life. However, addressing the ethical and societal challenges associated with powerful AI is crucial. AI researchers, computer scientists, technology giants and world governments must carefully consider the potential benefits and risks of ASI to ensure that this transformative technology is used responsibly and ethically for the betterment of humanity.

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