Why think that AI can outperform humans?

Machines already outperform humans at many specific tasks: performing calculations, playing chess, searching large databases, and more. However, human intelligence continues to dominate machine intelligence in generality.

A powerful chess computer is “narrow”: it can’t play other games. In contrast, humans have problem-solving abilities that allow us to adapt to new contexts and excel in many domains.

If machines can achieve human equivalence in cognitive tasks, then it is very likely that they can eventually outperform humans. There is little reason to expect that biological evolution, with its lack of foresight and planning, would have hit upon the optimal algorithms for general intelligence. Beyond qualitative improvements in cognition, Nick Bostrom notes more straightforward advantages we could realize in digital minds, e.g.:

  • Editability — “It is easier to experiment with parameter variations in software than in neural wetware.”

  • Speed — “The speed of light is more than a million times greater than that of neural transmission, synaptic spikes dissipate more than a million times more heat than is thermodynamically necessary, and current transistor frequencies are more than a million times faster than neuron spiking frequencies.”

  • Serial depth — On short timescales, machines can carry out much longer sequential processes.

  • Storage capacity — Computers can plausibly have greater working and long-term memory.

  • Size — Computers can be much larger than a human brain.

  • Duplicability — Copying software onto new hardware can be much faster and higher-fidelity than biological reproduction.

Any one of these advantages could give an AI an edge over a human, or give a group of AIs an edge over a group of humans.