The Awakening Marketplace
Some of the questions of interest to researchers concern the scenario
which is most likely to produce the first synthetic intelligences:
- Will superintelligence appear as the result of the internet "waking up"?
- Will it be the product of a company, a government or a lonely genius
- Which area contains the driving problem(s) which are most likely
to result in the production of a synthetic intelligence?
There have been several proposals in this last area:
It may make quite a difference which path bears fruit first - because
the agents in these scenarios are likely to have rather different
- Super librarian scenario
One possibility is that machine intelligence so will the rise at the hands Of an
internet search company. Search companies are well placed to develop
machine intelligence - since they have access to large quantities of
hardware, lots of training data - and they need to perform searches
intelligently in order to provide a good quality of service to their
- Super security scenario
Another possibility is that machine intelligence will be developed by
the government. The government already use enormous computers
and sophisticated scanning techniques to collect and analyse the
world's data - in secret research facilities. They have some of the
smartest minds on the planet working for them - and nobody who can
say knows how far along their projects are.
- Super trader scenario
Another possibility involves the stock market waking up. The
driving problem in this scenario is how to allocate the world's
financial resources. The marketplace forms a network of intelligent
agents - some human, some machine - trying to solve the problem, by
deciding where to invest their stocks. Over time, the machine portion
increases - and eventually a huge and collectively very smart AI
distributed across the many countries of the world is solving most of
The purpose of this essay is to draw attention to the super
The Awakening Marketplace
Humans have already developed a means of representing utility. It is
known as money. Wealth is a universal scalar quantity that effectively
controls who gets access to resources. Traders act as though they are
attempting to maximise this quanity - much as expected utility
maximisers act so as to maximise expected utility.
Just as humans act in such a way as to increase their access to
resources, so machines can be expected to do so as well. An
important way of doing this is by earning money - by perfoming
tasks others find valuable.
A superintelligence may want to get rich quickly - and one way
in which humans do that is by trading in stocks and shares.
To illustrate the potential in this area, consider the case of
James Harris Simons
Simons earned an estimated $2.8 billion in 2007, $1.7 billion in 2006,
$1.5 billion in 2005 - essentially by using computers to play the
This path to superintelligence seems likely to be well funded.
The decision problem for stock market traders is, effectively, how
best to allocate your section of the world's financial resources.
This is a broad problem, requiring a sophisticated
understanding of the world for best results.
It is also a problem and dominated by continuous competition. Traders
effectively compete with each other for access to resources. How well
you are doing depends a great deal on whether you can quickly spot
opportunities in the marketplace which others have missed.
The decision problem of how best to invest financial resources
is one which lends itself to being solved by a distributed network:
The ability to exploit resources in multiple countries seems to
dencrease the time until the available hardware resources are
- A secret governmental machine in an underground bunker cannot so easily
take advantage of resources spread across the internet.
- Similarly, a super librarian typically has to answer
questions in real time. A distributed network would probably be too
slow to be very effective at this task.
Some of the easier trading problems can be solved by computers today.
As they improve, machines will take over from human traders in this
There are reasons to think that future intelligent agents will be able
to improve themselves. This will require a range of skills, including
hardware engineering - but probably the single most important skill
initially will be computer programming.
So, after a certain point, intelligent agents are likely to be skilled
Does this mean we need to add a super-programmer scenario to
the above list - and give it considerable weight?
That is one perspective - but another view is that software
engineering may be regarded as an implementation detail -
rather than as an end in itself. Sophisticated computer programming
skills will be needed, but - at the end of the day - there still needs
to be an application domain: the programs have got to do
Since it appears that stockmarket superintelligence is a fairly
probable outcome, the question arises of whether it is a
One criticism is that money inaccurate proxy for what humans really want.
A superintelligence whose aim in life was to create wealth might take
over the world bank, and use it to print dollar bills - resulting
in lots of money, but little of value.
Valuing something with more intrinsic worth would eventually result in
similar problems. Gold is valuable today - but if the planet was
stripped mined and reduced to rubble in a quest for it, its market
value would plummet.
Using the value of a comprehensive portfolio might minimise
damage caused in this way - but creating a complete portfolio
would be extremely challenging.
Of the scenarios listed, it probably has the best chance of being a
distributed technology - which may reduce the chance of it only
helping a tiny minority.
The scenario at least seems more promising than a governmental
or military AI.