Artem Oppermann | Oct 06, 2022

If you told someone 50 years ago that one day cars could drive themselves and computers could converse with humans, they might not have believed you.

Yet that day is here. Machine learning, natural language processing and other AI tools can perform tasks once just dreamed about, and the line between artificial and real intelligence is becoming trickier to draw. But are machines really as smart as we are?

Not yet. Artificial general intelligence, or AI that learns and thinks like humans do, is still a ways off. But work in the AI space is bringing artificial intelligence closer to human intelligence. As that happens, the concept of intelligence itself is being revolutionized.

What Is Artificial General Intelligence?

Artificial general intelligence is AI that can learn, behave and perform actions the way that human beings do. Although artificial general intelligence has yet to be generated, it could perform a wider array of tasks than artificial narrow intelligence can, and could take over tasks that previously only a human could perform.

“Creativity, once thought of as uniquely human, has become more and more displaced through AI,” said Wayne Chang, cofounder of San Francisco-based fintech company Digits. “We are increasingly being surprised by machines rather than the other way around.”

“Creativity, once thought of as uniquely human, has become more and more displaced through AI. We are increasingly being surprised by machines rather than the other way around.”

Artificial general intelligence is still a work in progress, but a world where it’s commonplace is getting closer every day. Wondering what that world looks like? Here’s an exploration of artificial intelligence, its risks and how it could transform the world for the better.

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What Is Artificial General Intelligence? 

“Artificial intelligence” is an umbrella term. Under it are many different types of AI that perform unique tasks or have certain specific capabilities. One of these types is artificial general intelligence, a form of AI that mimics human learning and performance capabilities. Artificial general intelligence solves problems, learns new skills and possesses a level of intelligence similar to that of our own. 

“The best way to describe it is that AGI implements logic into the process rather than just applying an algorithm or coded process,” said Amruth Laxman, co-founder of Boca Raton, Florida-based telecommunications company 4Voice. “It is the closest element to thinking like humans.”

If it sounds like sci-fi, that’s because it still is. Existing forms of AI haven’t quite reached the level of artificial general intelligence — but developers are still working to make AGI a reality.

“Once achieved, AGI would be the height of human achievement, a system that understands profound problems, but can create solutions just as fast,” said Chang. “The impact of these capabilities is hard to completely imagine but whoever gets there first will wield unfathomable power.”


Narrow AI vs. General AI

Not all AI is created equal. Some types are active today and others remain theoretical. 

The form of AI that powers self-driving vehicles, algorithmic image generators and chatbots is called artificial narrow intelligence — basically, AI that performs a narrow range of tasks. 

“Narrow AI focuses on a specific use case in order to solve a bounded problem,” said Arnold Linawag, CTO at Toronto-based AI company Tealbook. “This is generally more achievable than AGI, which attempts to solve open-ended problems.”

Two subsets of AI fall under the artificial narrow intelligence category: reactive machines and limited memory machines. Reactive machines can react to immediate stimuli, but cannot store or learn from memories of past actions. 

“Reactive machines, the oldest forms of AI systems, are usually used for automatically responding to a limited set of data,” said Kartik Chopra, CEO at New York-based software development company Devron.

Limited memory machines can, as the name suggests, store past information in order to improve its performance over time. Limited memory machines represent the majority of AI tools available today, although artificial general intelligence principles are slowly being incorporated into limited memory products.

“The sky’s the limit with artificial general intelligence,” Chopra said. “But it is very much in its nascent stages.”


Artificial General Intelligence Examples

AI that learn, thinks and behaves just like a person still doesn’t exist. However, artificial narrow intelligence tools incorporating some elements of artificial general intelligence, or that push the boundaries of limited memory, do exist. 

“A couple of the best-known ways are self-driving cars and supercomputers like IBM’s Watson,” Laxman said. Creating music with AI programs and use in military supercomputers and quantum computers to strategize war and crisis scenarios are other uses, he added.

Some forms of narrow intelligence in use might seem advanced enough to reach artificial general intelligence status — think Sophia the robot. The existence of such cutting-edge narrow intelligence machines suggests a world where AGI is a reality isn’t far away. 

“AGI doesn’t exist today in the way we think about it,” Chang said. “However, the speed of innovation towards AGI is accelerating. In its ideal state, AGI would perform tasks that are identical to or surpass those that a human would perform.”


Benefits of Artificial General Intelligence

The development of AI technology is progressing in leaps and bounds. Artificial general intelligence might not be here today, but when it arrives, it will transform life as we know it.

“AGI is a massive opportunity in the technology space,” said Chang. “Whoever develops a working version of AGI stands to gain major social, economic, and political advantages.”

“AGI is a massive opportunity in the technology space. Whoever develops a working version of AGI stands to gain major social, economic, and political advantages.”

In many ways, this transformation will mean huge benefits for society. Artificial general intelligence will be able to scan all preexisting information available in places like the internet to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems. 

“AI has many positive uses now but has enormous future potential,” Laxman said. “It could, in the future, find a cure for chronic illnesses like cancer or resolve issues like overburdened utility infrastructure.”

One of the big fears that many have about artificial general intelligence is that its advanced, human-like capabilities will cause it to surpass humanity and render many jobs obsolete. But while AGI will automate many tasks and jobs, it’s not all bad news. This concern, Chang said, arises whenever a new technology is introduced.

“This fear happens with any major innovation but actually presents a great opportunity that allows society to move forward and build on it,” he said. “When cars were invented, the entire horse industry was destroyed — and an entire industry of drivers, mechanics, and logistics arose.”

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Risks of Artificial General Intelligence

Artificial general intelligence, for all its potential benefits, doesn’t come without risks. Already, AI is challenging our perception of the world and what makes us human. The development of an AI that can mimic and surpass our own abilities is, for many, a scary thought. 

Though AI has machine precision, it isn’t immune to human error. Within narrow AI, issues have already arisen where embedded systems have been built with biased data. This can result in AI making erroneous or, at worst, discriminatory decisions. 

“Existing attempts at large AI models are trained with unfiltered and unreviewed data,” said Chang. “Because of this, a major concern is biased data, which can in turn compound within the systems and be exaggerated through the models.”

Artificial general intelligence does come with its dangers. But are the stories of a future with evil AI overlords really realistic? So long as the humans at the wheel have good intentions, Linawag said we don’t need to worry.

“AI is a tool,” he said. “The risk is only as great as the intent people have when using these tools.”

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