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CSaP Distinguished Lecture: The intelligence stairway

1 February 2012, 5:30pm

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The first CSaP Distinguished Lecture in 2012 will be given by Jaan Tallinn, a co-founder of Skype, who will present a model for thinking about evolution, innovation, artificial intelligence and the future of humanity.

This lecture will take place on 1 February at 5:30pm in the McCrum Lecture Theatre, Corpus Christi College, and will be followed by drinks in the foyer.


The emergence of physical systems that were able to make copies of themselves on our planet 4 billion years ago marked the start of evolution. However, after the emergence of Homo sapiens, a phase transition happened because the optimisation power of humans exceeded that of the evolution. As a result, arguably, technological progress has largely replaced evolution as the dominant future-shaping force.

We seem to be witnessing a cascade-like pattern on our planet where optimisation processes are producing agents whose optimisation power (and, hence, the ability to control the future) exceeds that of the process that produced them. This pattern is what Jaan refers to as the "Intelligence Stairway".

Jaan will look at recent developments in technological progress – in particular the trend of computers and robots of ever-increasing intelligence – and ask whether the technological progress that produces computers smarter than their creators would constitute a similar phase transition.

If the answer is yes, the emergence of such computers (artificial general intelligence ­– AGI) could mark the end of human-driven technological progress, and the beginning of a new phase: an AGI-driven "intelligence explosion".

Finally, Jaan will consider how this possibility manifests in policy, and suggest potential solutions.

Mr Jaan Tallinn

Ambient Sound Investments

Dr David Cleevely

Raspberry Pi Foundation

  • In news articles

    The Intelligence Stairway - why the future might not need us

    Overly intelligent computers and robots could cause an ecological catastrophe marking the end of human existence. Not the plot of a science fiction film, but the warning delivered by Jaan Tallinn about the dangers of unmitigated technological advances in Artifial Intelligence, in the first CSaP Distinguished Lecture of 2012.