David Chalmers on V.R. and A.I.

We will develop new worlds and beings with powers greater than our own. How do we maximize them for good?

Over the past two decades, the philosopher David Chalmers has established himself as a leading thinker on consciousness. He began his academic career in mathematics but slowly migrated toward cognitive science and philosophy of mind. Chalmers is now writing a book on the problems of a technological future we are fast approaching: virtual reality, digitally uploaded consciousness, artificial intelligence and more. Prashanth Ramakrishna met with David Chalmers in his office at New York University to discuss this future and how we might relate to it.

Prashanth Ramakrishna: Artificial general intelligence, A.G.I., is a system capable, like us humans, of performing open-ended tasks independent of specific problems or contexts — conversation, common-sense reasoning, experiential learning and so on. The popular science fiction example is HAL 9000 from the film “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Is A.G.I. achievable? And if it is, does our civilizational conversation seem sufficiently robust on this topic?

David Chalmers: I think artificial general intelligence is possible. Some people are really hyping up A.I., saying that artificial general intelligence is just around the corner in maybe 10 or 20 years. I would be surprised if they turn out to be right. There has been a lot of exciting progress recently with deep learning, which focuses on methods of pattern-finding in raw data.

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