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From HAL to Pal

Was Man's Best Friend the first AGI?



Wolves into Whippets

If a kind and gentle Golden Retriever suddenly reached human level intelligence or beyond, do you think it would be dangerous to you? Perhaps it might unintentionally cause harm or alarm, but most likely its intent would be essentially benign.

Dogs have emotion, personality, they miss people when they are not around, and we miss them greatly when they pass on. 

Dogs have an enormously diverse genome thanks to our tinkering with them over many millennia, and come in a great many shapes and sizes. Our relationship with them is unlike another other creature, even the cat and horse are only fair-weather friends. Dogs and humans are tight like no other.

Through the process of ongoing interaction with humans, otherwise feral dogs in fact gain a sense of free will akin to a very young human child. Since dogs can feel ashamed or embarrassed for their actions when scolded by humans, and anxiety to be forgiven, they surely must have some measure of self-control (imposed through conditioning). If they had no internal sense of self-control, then they would feel no qualms for having stepped out of bounds. 

Wolves, the precursor of all dogs, can kill a human easily. They are sentient, and cunning, a predator, not something to trifled with, or easy to exert control over. 

In a sense taming, our ancestors' taming and domestication of wild wolves 15k-30,000+ years ago, was like taming a toddler AGI.


What is AGI?

Artificial General Intelligence may be defined in various ways. Ben Goertzel suggests (paraphrasing Steve Wozniak) that an AGI would be able to "go into an average American house and figure out how to make coffee, including identifying the coffee machine, figuring out what the buttons do, finding the coffee in the cabinet, etc."

Although dogs can be trained to use a toilet or fetch a newspaper, one can't ask a canid to fix up a brew. However, there are other definitions of AGI such as the following by Nils Nilsson:

"I suggest we replace the Turing test by something I will call the “employment test.” To pass the employment test, AI programs must… [have] at least the potential [to completely automate] economically important jobs."

In this definition, dogs might potentially qualify as biological AGI. Dogs can be employed as guards, guides, rescuers, messengers, rat-catchers, inspectors, herders, even actors.

Today, dogs are our loyal protectors from other animals, human and otherwise. We owe the successful development of civilization and culture as we know it to this remarkable species, with which we enjoy the deepest symbiosis.

Let's not forget that all dogs were once wolves until our prehistoric forebears modified them. They achieved this through co-opting the pack instinct to follow the Alpha Dog (taming), followed by selective breeding and epigenetic conditioning over countless generations, each approximately one seventh to one tenth of a typical human lifespan (domestication).


Domesticated Daemons

The cultivation of our unique relationship with Man's Best Friend may provide inspiration for a  path to safer intelligent machines.

We have have an opportunity to work with something like an AI 'doggy' with modest intellectual capacity, yet with emotional affect and an emulation of the base alliances of ancient agencies that drives the subjective experience of desire (for food, mating etc), i.e. the animal mammalian drives that cannot be extinguished, but which may be tempered through conditioning.

With operational parameters set in the meantime to minimise the risk of accidentally stepping over bounds during the training period, then one could presumably maintain the entity's benign disposition even as its capabilities increase.

The fact that our rock-banging forbears achieved something akin to this ages ago gives me hope that we can do it again. It may have been the case however, that it was wolves who made the first overtures of friendship to humans.

Finally, consider the massive joy that we experience in interacting with a friendly dog, the healing, helpfulness, and companionship to be enjoyed, mutually.

If we do things just right with designing benevolent AGI, we could enjoy relationships even more magnificent and rewarding, for them, and for us.