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Does Humanity Need an AI Nanny?

Ben Goertzel

H+ Magazine

September 05, 2011

The more I think about it, the more I wonder whether some form of AI Nanny might well be the best path forward for humanity – the best way for us to ultimately create a Singularity according to our values.


Complete entry


Posted by CygnusX1  on  09/05  at  05:17 PM

Once again.. The solution to “all” of the future problems and pitfalls for humanity lies with the development, implementation, and emergence of the online Global Brain/Mind?

What better way to develop an “ethical nanny”, than to perpetually crowd source the entire online collective aggregate of human minds? The collective will already comprise Human consciousness, ethics and wisdom and dilemmas will be self correcting?

Furthermore, this solution is non-exclusive, even the Pope can participate!

For me, this solution is as clear as day, and getting brighter by the moment! How about you? Can you see what I see? Can you see it?

Posted by iPan  on  09/05  at  05:55 PM

Brilliant article Ben, it’s refreshing to read from people who understand the gravity of our situation.

First, my complaints with your Nanny AI:

1) Too slow. I simply don’t think you’ll build it in time. For example, while you’re figuring out how to build the Nanny AI, someone else is building an AGI as well. This is a real coin toss. I’d imagine that we’d see several competing human level AGI’s emerge around the same time, and some of them will be warlike. Your Nanny AI won’t necessarily be the most powerful or resourceful.

2) Chaos. No matter how cleverly designed your Nanny AI is, I believe there are always anomalies that you cannot account for. This merely stems from an intuitive trust in the fundamental chaotic nature of reality.

Now, on to my solutions:

1) Global Brain. Develop social media faster. Connect the whole human race. Build the Noosphere now! A Global Village can potentially respond to crisis and threats much faster.

2) Abundance and Transparency. Abundance can be looked at from two perspectives: one, it reduces the probability that anyone will desire to unleash destructive technologies. Why blow something up when you have everything you need? No more disparity. Scarcity is the root of conflict, eliminate scarcity and the only problem we have to deal with are a low percentage of the population that are biologically damaged (mental illness/sociopathy, etc.) With accelerating technology, even these people can be identified and healed before they become a threat (perhaps even from birth - or the traits can be genetically modified out - or the symptoms can be detected so fast, perhaps through portable brain scans - etc. etc. etc.)
The other way to look at it is in the Brave New World sense. Wire head people into passivity. Give them food and shelter and clothing and permanently wire their heads to be in a state of ecstasy, if for no other reason than to keep everyone out of the way while the Singularity is being prepared.
Whichever way you choose to look at it (I choose the more positive sense - but the ominous BNW perspective seems to work too), abundance immediately relieves hostility.

Transparency. A requirement of the Global Mind solution. Sousveillance. If we want to do this in the most peaceful, hedonic way we can, it’s time for total global transparency as a catalyst for the other things we need, abundance and global mind.

I feel these things would have a higher chance of success than trying to race the rest of the world to be the first to create a Nanny AI.

Posted by Singularity Utopia  on  09/05  at  06:32 PM

An AI Nanny is the only way. I am counting on it. Without superintelligent AIs controlling affairs the human race is doomed.

But I don’t envisage AI nannies forestalling the S. They will accelerate it. The S cannot be anything but positive, because it is about intelligence thus it will be intelligent. A negative S would be stupid thus not really a S. Pre-S could be dangerous because stupid people unaware of S consequences could think pre-S existence is eternal thus they act in stupid pre-S ways.

Humans are too stupid to figure anything out thus a restrained “surge” would be futile and mediocre.

We need things to grow so very quickly that that pre-S idiots won’t have too much time to cause chaos.

Hugo de Garis and others are paranoid. Super intelligent beings beyond scarcity will have absolutely no need or desire to “obsolete” humans. People such as Hugo have not grasped Post-Scarcity, they haven’t grasped the S.

Friendly AI is a silly concept. AI at human level will be similar to humans, some will be good and some bad. Beyond human intelligence friendliness will directly increase in relation to increasing intelligence, any alternative would be stupid. Utopia is inevitable but the interim period could be painful (waiting amidst morons).

This is an oxymoron: “A strong inhibition against modifying its preprogrammed goals”, because such a constricted entity would not be capable of real intelligence. Free thought, freethinking, freedom is essential for intelligence.

Strong inbuilt inhibitions will not create super-intelligence. What you need to do is build an intelligent being without giving it any specific rules; and then you simply ask it to help us if it feels like helping us. It seems I have a different concept of AI nanny. Think about it. What sort of nanny would it be if it was forced to follow the rules of its children?

Posted by Alan Grimes  on  09/06  at  02:42 AM

Ever watch a movie called “Colossus: The Forbin project”?

Posted by CygnusX1  on  09/06  at  07:38 AM

Hazards opposing the usefulness of the Global Brain/Mind

Below may not be news to some, although it has only recently come to my attention. The reason in posting this is to make known and examine the potential dangers, (that already have existed for some time!), concerning increased online connectivity. Problems that oppose the implementation and extension and usefulness of the Global Brain/Mind.

It goes without saying that these types of clandestine and covert online activities are very difficult, if not impossible to trace and track in real-time, rendering surveillance and detection presently difficult to impossible?

So what is the solution?

The risk, hazard and dilemma already exists now, and needs to be addressed. There is already will to action to overcome these problems, we are not talking of any future speculation or negative consequence of connectivity or opposition to usefulness of the Global Brain/Mind.

I would still propose that the emerging use of Supercomputing, incorporating increased speed and bandwidth of processing for detection is a viable measure to tackle this type of criminality? That, together with some smart computer brains to design A.I algorithms to aid detection of Dark net hacks and addresses?

That there is indeed, absolutely no reason to doubt the usefulness of the emerging Global Brain/Mind.

Dark Internet

“A dark Internet or dark address refers to any or all unreachable network hosts on the Internet.

The dark Internet should not be confused with either deep web or darknet. Whereas deep web and darknet stand for hard-to-find websites and secretive networks that sometimes span across the Internet, the dark Internet is any portion of the Internet that can no longer be accessed through conventional means

Failures within the allocation of Internet resources due to the Internet’s chaotic tendencies of growth and decay are a leading cause of dark address formation. One of the leading causes of dark addresses is military sites on the archaic MILNET. These government networks are sometimes as old as the original Arpanet, and have simply not been incorporated into the Internet’s changing architecture. It is also speculated that hackers utilize malicious techniques to hijack private routers to either divert traffic or mask illegal activity. Through use of these private routers a dark Internet can form and be used to conduct all manner of misconduct on the Internet.”


The dark side of the internet

“In the ‘deep web’, Freenet software allows users complete anonymity as they share viruses, criminal contacts and child pornography

” Fourteen years ago, a pasty Irish teenager with a flair for inventions arrived at Edinburgh University to study artificial intelligence and computer science. For his thesis project, Ian Clarke created “a Distributed, Decentralised Information Storage and Retrieval System”, or, as a less precise person might put it, a revolutionary new way for people to use the internet without detection. By downloading Clarke’s software, which he intended to distribute for free, anyone could chat online, or read or set up a website, or share files, with almost complete anonymity.

“There’s a well-known crime syndicate called the Russian Business Network (RBN),” says Craig Labovitz, chief scientist at Arbor Networks, a leading online security firm, “and they’re always jumping around the internet, grabbing bits of [disused] address space, sending out millions of spam emails from there, and then quickly disconnecting.”

The RBN also rents temporary websites to other criminals for online identity theft, child pornography and releasing computer viruses. The internet has been infamous for such activities for decades; what has been less understood until recently was how the increasingly complex geography of the internet has aided them. “In 2000 dark and murky address space was a bit of a novelty,” says Labovitz. “This is now an entrenched part of the daily life of the internet.” Defunct online companies; technical errors and failures; disputes between internet service providers; abandoned addresses once used by the US military in the earliest days of the internet – all these have left the online landscape scattered with derelict or forgotten properties, perfect for illicit exploitation, sometimes for only a few seconds before they are returned to disuse. How easy is it to take over a dark address? “I don’t think my mother could do it,” says Labovitz. “But it just takes a PC and a connection. The internet has been largely built on trust.”



Posted by Sean Henderson  on  09/06  at  10:51 PM

suppossedly an AI would be better because 1.) it is logical - not subject to the whims of darwinian design 2.) it has faster processing speed and a larger information database.

I have no doubt that #2 will be correct, but is it possible that humans can create something logical when we are anything but?

In any system of ethics you have to define what is good and what is bad - how can you get the world to agree on these definitions?

How reluctant are present humans to defining an overt system of ethics?

I don’t see many wanting to promote or challenge the Abolitionist directive;

“the abolition of involuntary suffering/death in favor of the infinite increase in voluntary happiness/vitality”

so will they promote it when AI is ‘created’?

I’m sure humans will continue to focus on short sighted and expedient means that further their individual pursuit of happiness however blind it may be.

Presently we have fringe technologies developed in secret, AI will continue to be developed by the elite without input from the masses and for the whims of the privileged few.

Even with a world government you won’t have a democratic and open military industrial intelligence complex.

This is due to human nature.

Posted by Summerspeaker  on  09/06  at  10:59 PM

You can read my criticism of this proposal here. In short, dreams of superhuman patriarchs legitimate the existing structures of oppression.

Posted by Frank Glover  on  09/07  at  10:14 PM

@ Alan Grimes: Colossus vs. Guardian. That was my first thought as well…

The technology will likely appear on several fronts at about the same time, some of them possibly secret.

Posted by mjgeddes  on  09/08  at  02:36 AM

Not sure about a nanny, but certainly some kind of ‘quick ‘n dirty’ limited solution to buy us some time is likely needed.  As you say, we’ll be waiting 100 years for grand schemes such as CEV, and we’ll be long dead by then my friend.

Transhumanists spend far too much time in their own heads pondering grand schemes, I know why, the young transhumanist folks are mostly nerds that think their immortal and the world’s concerns don’t apply to them, but as you say in the article, once you hit your 40s you realize your time is running out real fast.

Transhumanists will never live to see any of the grand transhumanist schemes reach fruition, unless swift action is taken to alleviate our dire predicament (aging ).  Transhumanists spend all this time in their heads, and all the while the world is totally passing them by.  While pondering all sorts of exotic threats, all the while transhumanists were getting ‘outflanked’ by the mundane, the banal (aging, heart disease, cancer).  while pondering all sorts of highly complex and abstract grand schemes (e.g., CEV) all the while transhumanists failed to have a Plan B. 

Remember my Hacker’s Maxims:

Hacker’s Maxim #3:  ‘Always Have a Plan B’
Hacker’s Maxim #4: ‘Always Cover Your Flank’

The AGI Nanny constitutes a reasonable ‘near-mode’ possibility for a Plan B and a Flank Covering exercise to buy us the extra time we need to usher in the grander ‘far-mode’ schemes.

Posted by post-post  on  09/08  at  11:46 AM

“but as you say in the article, once you hit your 40s you realize your time is running out real fast.”

Yes and in your 50s you can’t ignore that realization.

Posted by iPan  on  09/08  at  01:42 PM

it’s no longer about computers but NETWORKS of computers- and the CLOUD is ALREADY an exaflop computer [there are 10^9 active mobile devices with 10^9 flops each for 10^18 flops- also there are 10^8 PCs with 10^10 flops each- another exaflop]! it is just in the process of compiling- it is transitioning from sharing data to sharing computation resources
consider this- the HUMAN network of memes and culture and conscious memory is a biological network of 10^9 brains each with about 10^16 ops- although the bandwidth between brains is very low: symbolic language- the whole neural supernetwork is about 10^25 ops

now consider that by the late 2020s our mobile devices will each be hitting the same power of the brain: 10^16 flops - petaflop mobiles and devices-

but AT THE SAME TIME at least basic BCI with more bandwidth than symbolic language between humans [at least basic audiovisual AR/VR and natural language recognition/basic brainwave reading] will for the first time allow the biological network of humans to cybernetically connect with the machine network/cloud at the level of each human/device

but when the two networks connect- they will be EQUIVALENT- in size/complexity the human network of memes and neurons is 10^25 ops- and as they connect the machine network will be 10^25 flops [10^16 flops times 10^9 devices]!

the fact that all indications show that the PLANETARY networks - the biological and the machine- will MERGE into a cybernetic whole JUST as they are EQUAL is just too big a coincidence my friends

this is the synchronicity of synchronicities- a clear sign of a teleology at work- a planetary self-organizing principle

Posted by Mark  on  09/08  at  03:10 PM

“To a young undergraduate, frustrated with the lack of rapid progress on tough philosophical questions, AI seemed like the great hope, the panacea—the escape from the frustrations of thinking. If we human beings are such feeble thinkers, perhaps philosophy is best not left to human beings. We could instead just build better thinkers—artificially intelligent machines—and they could answer our questions for us…Over time, it became increasingly hard to ignore the fact that the artificial intelligence systems I was building were not actually that intelligent. They could perform well on specific tasks; but they were unable to function when anything changed in their environment. I realized that, while I had set out in AI to build a better thinker, all I had really done was to create a bunch of clever toys—toys that were certainly not up to the task of being our intellectual surrogates…We were not, and are not, on the brink of a breakthrough that could produce systems approaching the level of human intelligence.”

Posted by iPan  on  09/09  at  03:22 PM

Regardless of one’s stance on the issue, I think everyone will find this interesting:

The Yale Law Journal’s Betsy Cooper wrote an essay examining our favorite Jeopardy! champion (and new medical diagnoser) robot Watson, but from a new angle: Could Watson help judges make legal decisions?

The essay notes that Watson could be of particular use to a certain type of judge or legal scholar: the new textualists. She writes: “New textualists believe in reducing the discretion of judges in analyzing statutes. Thus, they advocate for relatively formulaic and systematic interpretative rules. How better to limit the risk of normative judgments creeping into statutory interpretation than by allowing a computer to do the work?”
Says Cooper, “there are three important elements of new textualism: its reliance on ordinary meaning (the premise), its emphasis on context (the process), and its rejection of normative biases (the reasoning).” From that vantage point, Watson wouldn’t be so much a judge (much as we’d love to see a massive black judge’s robe draped over Watson’s storage array) as an assistant or clerk, using its power to decide, for example, what the most “ordinary” use of a word is. Humans have to rely on instinct and experience, but Watson can systematically measure that sort of thing, narrowing down the possible meanings of words to eliminate uncertainty.

Watson also has the advantage of not being able to insert his own emotions or opinions into his decisions, by virtue of the fact that, well, he doesn’t have any. Cooper does conclude that, due to his occasional errors (we’d hate to sentence criminals to serve time in Toronto) and the more basic fact that perhaps there should be a human element to judging, Watson is not an ideal candidate to actually make the bench. But that doesn’t mean he couldn’t be tremendously useful in legal decisions.

Posted by CygnusX1  on  09/13  at  09:58 AM

My comments are added at the end of these quotes and links..

Collective intelligence

“Collective intelligence is a shared or group intelligence that emerges from the collaboration and competition of many individuals and appears in consensus decision making in bacteria, animals, humans and computer networks.

The idea emerged from the writings of Douglas Hofstadter (1979), Peter Russell (1983), Tom Atlee (1993), Pierre Lévy (1994), Howard Bloom (1995), Francis Heylighen (1995), Douglas Engelbart, Cliff Joslyn, Ron Dembo, Gottfried Mayer-Kress (2003) and other theorists. Collective intelligence is referred to as Symbiotic intelligence by Norman Lee Johnson.[1] The concept is relevant in sociology, business, computer science and mass communications: it also appears in science fiction, frequently in the form of telepathically-linked species and cyborgs.”

David Skrbina cites the concept of a ‘group mind’ as being derived from Plato’s concept of panpsychism (that mind or consciousness is omnipresent and exists in all matter). He develops the concept of a ‘group mind’ as articulated by Thomas Hobbes in “Leviathan” and Fechner’s arguments for a collective consciousness of mankind. He cites Durkheim as the most notable advocate of a ‘collective consciousness” and Teilhard de Chardin as a thinker who has developed the philosophical implications of the group mind.

Atlee and Pór suggest that the field of collective intelligence should primarily be seen as a human enterprise in which mind-sets, a willingness to share and an openness to the value of distributed intelligence for the common good are paramount, though group theory and artificial intelligence have something to offer. Individuals who respect collective intelligence are confident of their own abilities and recognize that the whole is indeed greater than the sum of any individual parts. Maximizing collective intelligence relies on the ability of an organization to accept and develop “The Golden Suggestion”, which is any potentially useful input from any member. Groupthink often hampers collective intelligence by limiting input to a select few individuals or filtering potential Golden Suggestions without fully developing them to implementation.


World Wide Brain - Ben Goertzel

“The emergence of the global Web mind will, I believe, mark a significant turning-point in the history of intelligence on Earth. On a less cosmic level, it will obviously also play an important role in the specific area of computing. It will bring together two strands in computer science that have hitherto been mostly separate: artificial intelligence and networking. As we watch the initial stages of the global Web mind emerge, the interplay between the Net and AI will be intricate, subtle and beautiful. In the global Web mind, both networking and artificial intelligence reach their ultimate goals.”


As a counter point to the above, below is a short piece by Jaron Lanier, although I do not agree with his conclusions it is well written and still is worthy of contemplation.

Beware the Online Collective

“What’s to stop an online mass of anonymous but connected people from suddenly turning into a mean mob, just like masses of people have time and time again in the history of every human culture? It’s amazing that details in the design of online software can bring out such varied potentials in human behavior. It’s time to think about that power on a moral basis.”


And the answer to above?

Mob behaviours and tribalism will still be cancelled out by the self-correcting online Global collective - remember, size matters? If you cannot see this viewpoint, then you need to take a step further back and focus on the wood not the trees?

This is not to say that “each individual” will not have effect on the Global collective consciousness. It is individual expression and creativity, participation and cooperation in the online collective that is fundamentally important to ensure progress and sharing of ideas and wisdom, and ensure that mobs and tribalism, selfishness and criminality, frauds and corruption and etc are effectively nulled by the collective majority?

For sure, selfishness, frauds and criminality will always exist, as long as humans seek to take advantages and pursue self gratification. Free-loaders and associated memes will persist and continue to prosper, fundamentalism, extremism and political radicals and misanthropy will still endure; yet none of these will cause significant damage to the collective whole.

Polarised viewpoints may ebb and flow through causality, (political viewpoints may change overnight and be inspired by party politics and propaganda), yet the overall aggregate of majority interaction will effect a balance and equilibrium. And this is despite the negatives of mass ignorance, or democratic “mob rule” as some would have it, (although an “informed” democratic process, whereby citizens are given the right information to make an informed decision is most preferable, and if political process is carried out in earnest, this can be achieved).

Once again, you may feel that this argument is merely moot and pure speculation, yet today’s media and news channels are in fact highly interactive, and encourage discussion, participation and feedback through social media and email. Politicians are being held accountable in real time across news networks, news celebrities are now contactable directly, and even encourage contact and feedback. Even Barack Obama uses Twitter to disseminate political opinion and information. Increased transparency and accountability of governance and politicians is the way forward.

To conclude, people are not as dumb and indifferent as most governments would like them to be, or expect them to be, and most would actively participate in the governance of themselves and their communities if they were encouraged and empowered to do so? And if, they indeed felt, that their opinions were valued and counted towards progress and change?

The more pertinent questions facing the emergence of the Global Brain/Mind must begin with asking..

1. Do nation state governments really want to encourage and develop Global initiatives towards collective resourcing and participation, and thus encourage increased individual responsibility through social contract? As this means effectively promoting greater democratic power to citizens and relinquishing at least some governance to vote by proxy? Although ultimately, this would be to their advantage, (not that they would necessarily view it this way however), I can’t see much progress yet in increased democratic referendum.

2. Assuming that nation state governments would wish to encourage Global collective resourcing, or even national collective resourcing, (and I do not believe this is the case today), how would they encourage this participation and cooperation from citizens, (use of a carrot is obviously more effective)? How would they implement this strategy, (incremental would seem best)? How could citizens themselves help to promote increased awareness and participation for progression towards a “Big society”? Is it time for citizens to begin making real demands of their governments towards an increased democratic process?

3. Ultimately there will still be a need for a centralised Global government and authority to oversee jurisdiction and administrate for contingency against catastrophe and existential risks, and arbitrate in disagreements between nation states, (whatever those may be?), and I would foresee the UN playing an even greater role in Global governance, (comprising a federation of nation state governments, as is mostly the case today). This does not necessarily mean a need for an increase in bureaucracy, international laws and regulations however, (which seems to be the case today?)

With citizens holding increased democratic powers in the governance of their nation states, and our present nation state governments relegated to “administrators” of their respective collectives and for the negotiation and implementation of central Global initiatives, Global governance and regulations may be downsized and streamlined to suit and cater for the acceptance of all cultures and to ensure that basic human needs are met globally, (increased bureaucracy and regulation appears to hinder and slow progress towards egalitarianism?)

Yet still the same question begs, would the UN in fact be prepared to seek to empower Global citizens to think and act, and pursue increased democracy, or would it merely wish to continue to support the status quo and the current democratic participation of nation state central governments?

What has all of this to do with an A.I Nanny? - I still don’t think we need one!

Posted by Christian Krisch  on  09/22  at  11:06 PM

Well, I am somewhat surprised to see some of my intuitions concord with your exposition, and the AI Nanny idea, in my opinion, has been bouncing around from some time (mostly in SF, of course); the most striking example being the Multivac concept by the “good Doctor”, Asimov. Maybe some people clearly mix up the concept of the “nanny” with relinquish a piece of their liberty, that true, but, in the other hand, for example: Why are there so many people doing research about prosthetics? because some humans need them right?. They have some form of disability and we want to compensate their lives a bit. Now, we asume that the human mind is foolproof? NO, and it would be naive to think of it as such. The human mind can create an astounding amount of tools; why don´t create one that at least could tell us “Careful, you are getting a bit offhand on this or that”; and that idea is not new either. Dr. Stafford Beer tried to implement such “expert system” (to call it somehow) in Chile in the 70´s. Maybe a wrong time in a wrong moment? Could be. But his later works about VSM and Syntegrity applied to public office maybe would give some guidelines about what we NEED. That something like the AI Nanny is too complex to build in a reasonable amount of time? I have my doubts about the “impossible”; Internet and the WWW WAS something impossible about fifty years ago. I consider myself a Technoprogressive, and watching some polititians at “work”, I can only think in “Politics is too serious a matter to entrust to politicians alone”

Posted by Sean Henderson  on  09/23  at  02:03 PM

No one doubts that the unthinkable can be created, the issue for us is to ensure that it is ethical, given human nature - liberty and individual responsibility is an important [critical] check and balance against the stupidity inherent to our design.

Without changing our fundamental design, we are creating tools that amplify our darwinian drives.

What is valuable is not something that can be objectively quantified according to a hierarchy - that is a fallback to darwinian evolution (alpha male and such.)

The freedom to pursue happiness is what is valuable - it requires informed consent and subjective ‘free-will’.


With government corruption as it is, and the well documented history of the government encroaching upon our liberties with involuntary experimentation and spying, not to mention keeping the power and truth of fringe science from the masses - no one should trust an AI hierarchy - because it will be of darwinian nature and for darwinian nature - and controlled by the elite who are the least qualified to determine reality for individuals.

Posted by iPan  on  09/23  at  04:25 PM

I came across something today that made me chuckle.

To further my contention that these kinds of control remedies won’t work, because they won’t be fast or extensive enough.

A video of Ben Goertzel talking about his OPEN SOURCE project, OpenCog posted at K21st.

Ben, you’re doing an OPEN SOURCE AGI project, so how do you think that this sort of thing is going to remain in control of any single centralization focused type of institution/organization!?

The genie is out of the bottle. It’s likely some kind of Singleton is going to emerge.

Perhaps the only thing we can do (hopefully) is decide how we’re going to adapt to it’s emergence (merge or not).

I don’t think there is time for any kind of bureaucratic solution.

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