What on earth is AGI?

Everyone has heard of Artificial Intelligence – but how many have heard of, or understand what Artificial General Intelligence is?
In a single word, the difference is ‘understanding’.

The computer you are reading this text on doesn’t understand what is written on the screen.; Your calculator doesn’t understand your accounts and AI systems do not understand the things they are trained to deal with. That is because the AI systems were not designed to solve the problem of ‘understanding’ , they were designed to be trained to recognise certain situations and to react in preset ways. AGI on the other hand is designed from the ground up with the aim of ‘understanding’ – everything else comes from that base.

The main benefit of understanding is flexibility – imagine two systems, both of which are trained to pilot a car in self drive mode. Both are trained to recognise people walking or on bicycles and to stop instead of hitting them. The first is an AI, and although if it sees a small child in the road it will stop the car, it doesn’t understand what a child is, what a car is, or what stop means. The problem is that the real world is full of unexpected conditions, and you can’t train the system to handle all of them. If such a system comes across a child on a pogo stick, it may not know what to do. The second system is an AGI, it learns that pedestrians are people, and that people can be associated with other objects, such as bicycles, and that regardless of that association they are still people and not to be knocked down. The child on a pogo stick is related to the ‘person on a bicycle pattern’. Crucially the AGI, having avoided the pogo stick rider, has now also learnt a bit about pogo sticks as well – and may use that knowledge later on.

The other difference between AI and AGI is the range of things you can train or teach it to do. The AI in a self drive car can never be taught how to play chess, for example. You in contrast can continue to learn new knowledge and capabilities throughout your life, and you will apply techniques learnt in one area to improve your understanding of another. AGI is exactly the same as you – teach an AGI how to be an accountant, and then teach the same system how to be a lawyer and it will gain a better understanding of the legal implications of, for example compiling a companies taxes.

There is one last, important, difference. AI makes up for its lack of understanding with enormous volumes of data and enormously fast processors. All of that carries an enormous carbon footprint. You, in comparison, do all that you do with the lump of sugar powered wetware between your ears. That is because the processes of true intelligence are very efficient. Similarly, AGI has much lower environmental impact.

AGI is not just a different type of AI, it has different roots, and is a completely different approach to the problem of intelligence.