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Predictions of the future rely, to a much greater extent than in most fields, on the personal judgement of the expert making them. Just one problem - personal expert judgement generally sucks, especially when the experts don't receive immediate feedback on their hits and misses. Formal models perform better than experts, but when talking about unprecedented future events such as nanotechnology or AI, the choice of the model is also dependent on expert judgement.
Ray Kurzweil has a model of technological intelligence development where, broadly speaking, evolution, pre-computer technological development, post-computer technological development and future AIs all fit into the same exponential increase. When assessing the validity of that model, we could look at Kurzweil's credentials, and maybe compare them with those of his critics - but Kurzweil has given us something even better than credentials, and that's a track record. In various books, he's made predictions about what would happen in 2009, and we're now in a position to judge their accuracy. I haven't been satisfied by the various accuracy ratings I've found online, so I decided to do my own assessments.
I first selected ten of Kurzweil's predictions at random, and gave my own estimation of their accuracy. I found that five were to some extent true, four were to some extent false, and one was unclassifiable
But of course, relying on a single assessor is unreliable, especially when some of the judgements are subjective. So I started a call for volunteers to get assessors. Meanwhile Malo Bourgon set up a separate assessment on Youtopia, harnessing the awesome power of altruists chasing after points.
The results are now in, and they are fascinating. They are...
The data forming the background of my analysis of AI timeline predictions is now available online. Many thanks to Jonathan Wang and Brian Potter, who gathered the data, to Kaj Sotala, who analysed and categorised it, and to Luke Muehlhauser and the Singularity Institute, who commissioned and paid for it.
I encourage people to produce their own estimate of the "median date"! If you do so, you should use the second database (the one without my estimates). And you should decide in advance what kind of criteria you are going to use to compute this median, or whether you are going to reuse my criteria. And finally you should inform me or the world in general of your values, whether they are very similar or very different to mine.
My criteria were:
- When a range was given, I took the mid-point of that range (rounded down). If a year was given with a 50% likelihood estimate, I took that year. If it was the collection of a variety of expert opinions, I took the prediction of the median expert. If the author predicted some sort of AI by a given date (partial AI or superintelligent AI), and gave no other estimate, I took that date as their estimate rather than trying to correct it in one direction or the other (there were roughly the same number of subhuman AIs as suphuman AIs in the list, and not that many of either). I read extracts of the papers to make judgement calls when interpreting problematic statements like "within thirty years" or "during this century" (is that a range or an end-date?). I never chose a date other than one actually predicted, or the midpoint of a range.
Incidentally, you may notice that a certain Stuart Armstrong is included in the list, for a prediction I made back in 2007 (for AI in 2207). Yes, I counted that prediction in my analysis (as a non-expert prediction), and no, I don't stand by that date today.