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Some of Bostrom’s cleverest arguments resemble Swiss Army knives: they are simple, toylike, a pleasure to consider, with colorful exteriors and precisely calibrated mechanics.

He once cast a moral case for medically engineered immortality as a fable about a kingdom terrorized by an insatiable dragon.

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Within the high caste of Silicon Valley, Bostrom has acquired the status of a sage. ” The people who say that artificial intelligence is not a problem tend to work in artificial intelligence. They have a way of dramatizing their beliefs with an end-of-days scenario—and one does not want to criticize other people’s religions.” Because the argument has played out on blogs and in the popular press, beyond the ambit of peer-reviewed journals, the two sides have appeared in caricature, with headlines suggesting either doom (“’ ”).

Many prominent researchers regard Bostrom’s basic views as implausible, or as a distraction from the near-term benefits and moral dilemmas posed by the technology—not least because A. systems today can barely guide robots to open doors. Even the most grounded version of the debate occupies philosophical terrain where little is clear.

A reformulation of Pascal’s wager became a dialogue between the seventeenth-­century philosopher and a mugger from another dimension. has recently made striking advances—with everyday technology seeming, more and more, to exhibit something like intelligent reasoning—the book has struck a nerve. of Tesla, promoted the book on Twitter, noting, “We need to be super careful with AI. could threaten humanity, he said, during a talk in China, “When people say it’s not a problem, then I really start to get to a point of disagreement.

“Superintelligence” is not intended as a treatise of deep originality; Bostrom’s contribution is to impose the rigors of analytic philosophy on a messy corpus of ideas that emerged at the margins of academic thought. Bostrom’s supporters compare it to “Silent Spring.” In moral philosophy, Peter Singer and Derek Parfit have received it as a work of importance, and distinguished physicists such as Stephen Hawking have echoed its warning. Potentially more dangerous than nukes.” Bill Gates recommended it, too. How can they not see what a huge challenge this is? of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, in Seattle, referred to the fear of machine intelligence as a “Frankenstein complex.” Another leading researcher declared, “I don’t worry about that for the same reason I don’t worry about overpopulation on Mars.” Jaron Lanier, a Microsoft researcher and tech commentator, told me that even framing the differing views as a debate was a mistake. “People think it is about technology, but it is really about religion, people turning to metaphysics to cope with the human condition.

Bostrom is arguably the leading transhumanist philosopher today, a position achieved by bringing order to ideas that might otherwise never have survived outside the half-crazy Internet ecosystem where they formed.

He rarely makes concrete predictions, but, by relying on probability theory, he seeks to tease out insights where insights seem impossible.He sometimes notes, as a point of comparison, the trajectories of people and gorillas: both primates, but with one species dominating the planet and the other at the edge of annihilation.“Before the prospect of an intelligence explosion, we humans are like small children playing with a bomb,” he concludes.He grew distant from old friends: “I became quite fanatical and felt quite isolated for a period of time.” When Bostrom was a graduate student in Stockholm, he studied the work of the analytic philosopher W. Quine, who had explored the difficult relationship between language and reality.His adviser drilled precision into him by scribbling “not clear” throughout the margins of his papers.Bostrom later told me, “They may have saved more lives than most of the statesmen we celebrate on stamps.” The sense that a vanguard of technical-minded people working in obscurity, at odds with consensus, might save the world from auto-annihilation runs through the atmosphere at F. “It’s hard to convey in words what that was like,” Bostrom told me; instead he sent me a photograph of an oil painting that he had made shortly afterward.