This way of looking at AI rests on the principle of universal Darwinism – the idea that whenever information (a replicator) is copied, with variation and selection, a new evolutionary process begins. The first successful replicator on earth was genes. Their evolution produced all living things, including animals, whose intelligence emerged from brains consisting of interconnected neurons. The second replicator was memes, let loose when humans began to imitate each other. Imitation may seem a trivial ability, but it is very far from that. An animal that can imitate another brings a new level of evolution into being because habits, skills, stories and technologies (memes) are copied, varied and selected. Our brains had to quickly expand to handle the rapidly evolving memes, leading to a new kind of emergent intelligence.
The third replicator is, I suggest, already here, but we are not seeing its true nature. We have built machines that can copy, combine, vary and select enormous quantities of information with high fidelity far beyond the capacity of the human brain. With all these three essential processes in place, this information must now evolve.
Google is a prime example. Google consults countless sources to select material copied from servers all over the world almost instantly. We may think we are still in control because humans designed the software and we put in the search terms, but other software can use Google too, copying the selected information before passing it on to yet others. Some programs can take parts of other programs and mix them up in new ways. Just as in biological evolution, most new variants will fizzle out, but if any arise that are successful at getting themselves copied, by whatever means, they will spread through the wonderfully interconnected systems of machines that we have made.
Replicators are selfish by nature. They get copied whenever and however they can, regardless of the consequences for us, for other species or for our planet. You cannot give human values to a massive system of evolving information based on machinery that is being expanded and improved every day. They do not care because they cannot care.
I refer to this third replicator as techno-memes, or temes, and I believe they are already evolving way beyond our control. Human intelligence emerged from biological brains with billions of interconnected neurons. AI is emerging in the gazillions of interconnections we have provided through our computers, servers, phones, tablets and every other piece of machinery that copies, varies and selects an ever-increasing amount of information. The scale of this new evolution is almost incomparably greater.