How Artificial General Intelligence Could One Day Surpass Us

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Key Takeaways

AI has made remarkable strides but remains narrowly specialized and lacks human-like adaptability and understanding. The pursuit of AGI aims to create versatile, human-like intelligence, and recursive self-improvement is a prominent approach. Recursive self-improvement mirrors AI's evolution after the principles of biological evolution, paving the way for AI to autonomously learn and adapt.

In recent years, the field of artificial intelligence (AI) has been a relentless source of fascination and amazement.

From conquering humans in complex strategy games to predicting intricate 3D protein structures, generating human-like text, and aiding in medical image diagnostics, AI has undeniably showcased its extraordinary capabilities.

However, beneath the veneer of these remarkable achievements lies a fundamental limitation – the current intelligence of AI systems is narrow and domain-specific. They lack the adaptability, versatility, and profound understanding inherent to human cognition.

In this article, we delve into the concept of recursive self-improvement in AI, a transformative shift poised to elevate AI to unprecedented levels of intelligence — even creating its own language that we cannot begin to understand.

From AI to Artificial General Intelligence (AGI)

While we celebrate AI’s accomplishments, it’s crucial to recognize the limitations that persist. A chess-playing AI can outperform grandmasters, but it falls short of understanding human emotions or engaging in meaningful conversations.

Similarly, an AI specialized in medical image analysis excels at disease detection but struggles with complex tasks like language translation.


These constraints emphasize the need for AI systems to transcend their narrow domains and evolve into something more.

Recognizing the inherent limitations of narrow AI, the AI community has redirected its focus toward pursuing Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). This intelligence is adaptable and versatile and mirrors the complexities of human thinking. While the path to developing such a system remains uncertain, one approach currently receiving considerable attention is recursive self-improvement.

What Do I Need to Know About AGI?

To understand the quest for AGI, it’s essential to consider the origins of human general intelligence (HGI). The HGI, which encompasses the ability to adapt, reason, learn, and perform a wide range of cognitive tasks, is believed to have evolved over millennia through biological evolution.

This process is not a single leap but a continuous cycle of incremental changes and improvements over generations. This cycle involves a feedback loop where each generation’s cognitive capabilities build upon the achievements of the previous generation.

Over time, these incremental changes cumulatively result in the development of complex cognitive abilities. This process includes learning, problem-solving, adaptation to new environments, social intelligence, and language acquisition, among other aspects of human cognition.

Many AI researchers believe that to transform AI into AGI, a similar kind of recursive self-improvement process needs to be initiated. While the mechanisms of biological evolution cannot be directly replicated in AI, the concept of recursive self-improvement serves as a guiding principle. The idea is to create AI systems that can autonomously learn, adapt, and improve their capabilities over time, mirroring how humans evolved their general intelligence.

Recursive Self-Improvement in AI

Recursive self-improvement, while not a novel concept, has been a driving force across various disciplines, spanning from computer science and academia to project management and artificial intelligence.

In the realm of AI, it has been instrumental in propelling AI to its current state of advancement. For example, the Parameter Learning Algorithm, which iteratively refines AI, is the foundation for recent AI progress. Similarly, Recurrent Neural Networks employ feedback loops to continually refine AI’s understanding over time, representing a form of recursive self-improvement.

Self-supervised learning, a widely used approach in generative AI, can also be seen as an instance of recursive self-improvement. In this approach, an iterative feedback loop predicts the next word based on the current word and previously acquired knowledge, learning from its errors with each iteration. This recursive self-supervised learning has enabled AI to attain human-like text-generation abilities.

Recursive Self-Improvement Meets AGI

As we explore existing methodologies inspired by recursive self-improvement in Artificial Intelligence (AI), it’s vital to recognize that the current techniques, although impressive, come with intrinsic constraints.

These methods often rely heavily on human intervention, requiring humans to write code and prepare datasets, thereby lacking the autonomy necessary for achieving a broader and more human-like recursive self-improvement. To attain a level of recursive self-improvement akin to human intelligence, AI must be granted broader access, enabling it to innovate, experiment, and iterate independently.

This shift entails bestowing AI with full access to projects, including source code, datasets, and essential resources. This access opens the door to the possibility of creating fully automated programming systems where AI can modify its own root code, ultimately rewriting and improving itself.

While the idea of recursive self-improvement has been circulating for some time, recent advancements in AI, particularly in the domain of computer program improvement and interactions with computational tools and datasets, have sparked renewed interest and potential.

The incremental enhancements observed in a series of AI models, exemplified by GPT1 to GPT4 and the Llama series, could serve as the initial cycles to kickstart this transformative process.

The Intersection of Recursive Self-Improvement and AGI

In the realm of Artificial General Intelligence, recursive self-improvement represents a shift in which software undergoes evolutionary development through a series of iterative cycles, as opposed to the conventional approach of AI, which depends on human coding and machine learning techniques to enhance its intelligence.

While traditional AI can adapt within predefined boundaries, it lacks the ability to fundamentally modify its core structure to transform it into something entirely new. In contrast, recursive self-improvement embodies the concept of self-altering foundational code, allowing AI to metamorphose itself.

Once initiated, this process can lead to AI surpassing its human creators, contributing novel algorithms, neural architectures, or programming languages that may not be entirely comprehensible to us.

At this stage, it can independently generate the next iteration of itself without any human intervention, resulting in super-intelligent AI that excels in all cognitive tasks beyond human capabilities.

Once this recursive process begins, it is expected to grow exponentially, akin to a ‘snowball effect,’ as demonstrated by instances like AlphaZero, which acquired superior chess-playing abilities to humans after just days of training. This hypothetical future point, where AI becomes so advanced that it outpaces human intelligence and potentially accelerates at an exponentially increasing pace, is commonly referred to as the “technological singularity.”

The Promise, Peril, and Considerations

The potential for self-replicating and recursive self-improvement in AI is immense. It can fast-track progress toward AGI, enabling AI to adapt rapidly to new challenges and reducing the need for constant human intervention. However, this explosive potential also raises concerns. The concept of an “intelligence explosion” is both promising and terrifying, as it may outpace our ability to control and understand it.

To mitigate these risks, it’s crucial to approach self-improving AI cautiously. While the notion of an intelligence explosion might appear like science fiction, it’s not unrealistic to envision a future where recursive self-improvement in AI is a reality. Nevertheless, implementing this is not as simple as it sounds. Numerous challenges must be addressed, and the adequacy of our current technology remains uncertain.

The Bottom Line

As we journey through the exciting realm of AI and its quest for Artificial General Intelligence, recursive self-improvement emerges as a compelling paradigm with transformative potential. While it promises to elevate AI to new heights of intelligence, it also brings forth the challenge of maintaining control over potentially exponential growth.

The road to AGI, inspired by the principles of recursive self-improvement, opens doors to revolutionary possibilities but necessitates careful consideration and vigilant management to harness its full potential.


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Dr. Tehseen Zia
Tenured Associate Professor
Dr. Tehseen Zia
Tenured Associate Professor

Dr. Tehseen Zia has Doctorate and more than 10 years of post-Doctorate research experience in Artificial Intelligence (AI). He is Tenured Associate Professor and leads AI research at Comsats University Islamabad, and co-principle investigator in National Center of Artificial Intelligence Pakistan. In the past, he has worked as research consultant on European Union funded AI project Dream4cars.