What if we discovered the algorithm of thought?

In the cur­rent world of arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence, there are still many things that com­put­ers can’t do. One thing that humans are noto­ri­ous­ly good at is com­ing up with cre­ative new ideas and mak­ing deci­sions based on feel­ings rather than a strict set of rules. But what if we dis­cov­ered the “algo­rithm of thought” – a way to think and make deci­sions for our­selves that did not involve the con­scious use of our log­i­cal and ratio­nal minds? What if we learned how to do this so com­plete­ly that we even­tu­al­ly made our­selves obsolete?

There are two things we must con­sid­er with any tech­no­log­i­cal advance. The first is ensur­ing that the tech­nol­o­gy advances in a way to ben­e­fit all peo­ple, not just those who are already wealthy or polit­i­cal­ly influ­en­tial. The sec­ond is ensur­ing that the tech­nol­o­gy is safe for all peo­ple – that it does not become capa­ble of harm­ing us, and can be con­trolled in a way so that it does not harm us.

A brief explanation on algorithm of thought

Algo­rithm of thought is not some­thing like “the com­plete set of instruc­tions for think­ing”. It is rather the abil­i­ty to trans­late the intu­itive, uncon­scious thoughts into a log­i­cal, explic­a­ble form. There are two main com­po­nents to it:

1) The abil­i­ty to come up with new ideas (cre­ativ­i­ty).

2) The abil­i­ty to make deci­sions with­out hav­ing all the infor­ma­tion before­hand. This will make more sense in just a bit.

We will talk about cre­ativ­i­ty first because that is what peo­ple usu­al­ly think of when they talk about “think­ing.” Peo­ple ask ques­tions like, “How can peo­ple be cre­ative if every­thing has already been done?” We’ve seen exam­ples in this blog like how peo­ple can make mash-ups of songs that are com­plete­ly unique. What is hap­pen­ing here is that peo­ple are trans­lat­ing their intu­itive, uncon­scious thoughts into log­i­cal expla­na­tions that oth­ers can understand.

The ideas them­selves are not cre­ative. In fact, many of them are just the results of peo­ple’s sub­con­scious mind try­ing to sat­is­fy their urges. But what deter­mines whether or not you end up going along with those ideas? That is where deci­sion-mak­ing comes in. The very act of trans­lat­ing your gut reac­tion into an expla­na­tion of why you feel a cer­tain way allows you to some­how judge the val­ue of those gut reac­tions and pri­or­i­tize them. If it seems like a stu­pid idea, then your sub­con­scious mind will let it die. If it seems good, then you’ll go with it and make it some­thing more concrete.

A good deci­sion-mak­ing algo­rithm is the one that takes all the infor­ma­tion it has about a prob­lem and makes the best pos­si­ble solu­tion with­out mess­ing up. So what if we could come up with a com­plete­ly infal­li­ble algo­rithm of thought…?

Disturbing things for algorithm of thought 

This is where things get dis­turb­ing. Let’s sup­pose we could cre­ate an algo­rithm of thought that could make deci­sions per­fect­ly all the time, based on all the infor­ma­tion it has, even if it had to process it in real time. When a per­son with the algo­rithm of thought came up with a cre­ative idea, his or her brain would be sat­is­fied and he or she would go along with that idea. But when the per­son decid­ed on how to make deci­sions, the algo­rithm of thought would be able to process all the infor­ma­tion about that deci­sion, and come up with the best pos­si­ble answer. It could not just mess up – it would always come up with the per­fect answer.

When we say algo­rithm of thought, we don’t mean any kind of strict or rigid sys­tem that have to fol­low. We are talk­ing about a process by which the brain can form new con­nec­tions when­ev­er it makes a deci­sion, so that it can always come up with the best deci­sion possible.

Now this does not mean that peo­ple will stop mak­ing deci­sions. Peo­ple will still want to do things for their own rea­sons. But the deci­sions made by the peo­ple with this algo­rithm of thought are most­ly sub­con­scious and based on their gut reac­tions. This means that algo­rithm con­trols them, instead of their brains; in fact, the brain’s role is now reduced to that of a relay and pro­cess­ing front-end for the algorithm.

How is the invention of algorithm of thought possible? Or, is it even possible?

We know that the human brain can change and adapt, learn, and devel­op new skills through­out life. It can come up with cre­ative new ideas on how to do things. It can even invent entire­ly new ideas that no one else has ever had before.

In case of algo­rithm of thought, the brain has not changed in any phys­i­cal way. It is the same brain that you and I have. But how is it pos­si­ble that this human brain can invent an algo­rithm of thought by itself?

Because of a phe­nom­e­non in the brain called neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty , which basi­cal­ly states that your brain has no fixed struc­ture and can always be changed by learn­ing and expe­ri­ence. This means that you are con­stant­ly being shaped by the envi­ron­ment around you, which includes your genes, your friends, books, movies, TV shows – basi­cal­ly every­thing you expe­ri­ence. Your brain is con­stant­ly adapt­ing to these stim­uli of changes and form­ing new con­nec­tions with­in itself.

The neur­al con­nec­tions that are formed are not fixed but rather plas­tic, flex­i­ble, and eas­i­ly mod­i­fied. The more you use them – either by learn­ing new things or by mak­ing deci­sions – the more tight­ly they bond with each oth­er. As a result, any of the con­nec­tions that have been heav­i­ly used over time will be stronger than those that have not.

Impact of brain in the system 

brain nervous system

The brain has an abil­i­ty to store all the infor­ma­tion it learns in the form of long-term mem­o­ries. This has been shown exper­i­men­tal­ly by means of run­ning rats through mazes over and over again in order to teach them to nav­i­gate these mazes with ease. In such a maze, there is a blue square in the mid­dle of the maze. When the rat final­ly gets used to these sur­round­ings and goes through this maze with­out any prob­lem, there is an area in its brain called hip­pocam­pal for­ma­tion that lights up. This area used to be inac­tive because it was nev­er used by the rat – but after many rep­e­ti­tions of going through that maze, it has formed strong con­nec­tions with its neigh­bors. Now when the rat goes through this same maze, this acti­vat­ed hip­pocam­pal region lights up again and it can nav­i­gate through these mazes unhindered.

When we say algo­rithm of thought, we don’t mean any kind of strict or rigid sys­tem that we have to fol­low. We are talk­ing about a process by which the brain can form new con­nec­tions when­ev­er it makes a deci­sion, so that it can always come up with the best deci­sion possible. 

If a per­son keeps on mak­ing deci­sions through­out his life and form­ing these new con­nec­tions, the algo­rithm of thought will devel­op its abil­i­ties over time. In fact, the stronger you use this algo­rithm of thought for mak­ing deci­sions, the stronger this con­nec­tion will become in your brain.

Is it then brain’s algorithm?

It’s more like a hack on the brain’s algo­rithm. For exam­ple, when you are hun­gry and see a piz­za, you want to eat it. But in this process, there are mil­lions of pat­terns being formed on your brain and activ­i­ties going on. It’s like pro­gram­ming your brain some­how to only react to a cer­tain pat­tern of stim­uli. And you can choose what kind of pat­tern will make your brain react. You just keep on learn­ing and improv­ing your algo­rithm of thought over time, until it seems like your mind is a clear plat­form free of any psy­cho­log­i­cal bias­es that might stop you from think­ing ratio­nal­ly and mak­ing good decisions.

What would happen if we made ourselves obsolete?

Now, let’s ask the ques­tion: What would hap­pen if we turned our brains into a pure­ly log­i­cal, pre­dictable and near­ly flaw­less algo­rithm of thought? What if we could make our­selves so log­i­cal and pre­dictable that we would be a near­ly flaw­less deci­sion-mak­ing sys­tem? How would this affect us, the liv­ing humans?

One way to think about it is to view com­put­ers as a type of tool that we use to man­age our lives. If you were to become com­plete­ly depen­dent on tech­nol­o­gy and com­plete­ly obso­lete, you would lose all con­trol over your life. You would lose what made you human in the first place – your abil­i­ty to make deci­sions based on your feel­ings, not just rea­sons. You would become a machine.

If you think about it this way, then we can see how this could be dan­ger­ous. Just take an exam­ple of tech empires that have destroyed them­selves by becom­ing too pow­er­ful (or just look at the exam­ples in our world like the Sovi­et Union and Nazi Germany).

We exist due to our unique­ness, and our abil­i­ty to choose. If we become obso­lete, we will lose this.

Bottom Line

The key to pre­vent­ing this kind of cat­a­stro­phe is to ensure that humans’ deci­sions are based on their own rea­son and intel­li­gence, not based on any sort of algo­rithms. As we see the rate of evo­lu­tion of tech­nol­o­gy in the past decades, sci­en­tists are most like­ly to dis­cov­er the con­cept of algo­rithm of thoughts in the near decades. This means that we should be very aware of the con­se­quences, and do our best to ensure that we don’t end up becom­ing obsolete.

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