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Machine Intelligence

AGI: What, When and Why

Artificial Intelligence Digital Concept Abstract Brains Inside Light Bulb

It is possible AGI will be the single most revolutionary step in human history.

AGI, or Artificial General Intelligence, is a fundamental change in AI advancement. The first section covers what AGI is and contrasts it with traditional AI. The second section delves into timelines predicted for AGI’s emergence, and evidence for them. Finally, it closes with the importance of AGI and why it matters.

What is AGI

Current Definitions

Surprisingly, there is no general consensus. However, this article provides an operational definition we will use after acknowledging the complexity of defining it.

Wikipedia defines AGI as the ability of an intelligent agent to understand or learn any intellectual task that human beings or other animals can. Merriam-Webster has yet to provide a definition. Under ‘Artificial Intelligence’, it notes that as ‘the capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior’. There are multiple papers (here is one) attempting to properly categorize AGI as well. What exactly is the difficulty?

Issues With a Definition

AI Researcher David Shapiro has a growing body of work on AI in general, and precisely this topic; the following issues are pulled from his work (notwithstanding the possibility his work is derivative of others).

  • Autonomous or reactive
    • If you have to prompt it, it’s not an autonomous agent.
  • Spontaneous learning
    • We learn automatically, does an AGI require that?
      • For example, ChatGPT does not get better at conversation as time goes on, OpenAI simply trains better models.
  • Consciousness
    • What exactly is consciousness?
    • Does it result in a functional difference?

A Functional Definition

In some future, if an AI possessed each of the above qualities, one could likely declare it was an AGI with confidence. However, predicting the emergence of those qualities remains difficult currently. Instead, the following definition will be explored in this article: AGI is intelligence capable of executing a given task at or above general human competence.

This includes everything from “write a 10-page research paper on X with real sources” to “create a website that displays all of my financial information on a colorful dashboard”.

When Will AGI Happen

Late 2024, early 2025.

If that claim sounds far-fetched, imagine telling someone that AI would be capable of understanding a joke from a picture of a year ago.

The AI Researcher mentioned earlier, David Shapiro, goes through scientific research and detailed reasoning on the specifics. However, even without understanding the underlying details, there’s a simple compelling argument that indicates the same timeline. GPT-3, released in 2021, passes the Bar exam in the bottom 10%. GPT-4, released 2 years later, passes it in the top 10%, an astounding leap in performance.

GPT-5 is rumored to already be training and will likely finish at the end of this year. If a 6-9 month testing cycle that characterized GPT-3 and 4 remains similar, then GPT-5 releases late 2024 early 2025. Performing close to the same leap in ability as GPT-3 to GPT-4 makes it functionally as intelligent as a human.

Why Does AGI Matter

AGI, even given this article’s definition of no autonomy or learning, changes society in different ways than anything before. Current AI, as useful and magical as it seems, has limits that are not difficult to encounter. It stays within the realm of ‘tool’ and requires that humans fact-check it and verify its output. GPT-5 would theoretically flip this script. It would be capable of giving answers that are more correct than all but the most specialized of individuals on a given subject. This allows anyone with such a tool at their disposal to perform at the level of a specialist.

A fourth grader could complete all work assigned to a college computer science major, for example.

This is a large change.

Closing and Exhortation

AGI will mark an unprecedented era in human history, transforming the way to live, work, and learn. As the timeline for AGI’s emergence approaches, it is crucial to prepare for this paradigm shift. The ultimate impact of AGI will depend on our collective ability to understand, harness, and ethically integrate it into our daily lives. Now is the time for strategic planning, critical conversations, and collaborative efforts to ensure that AGI becomes a catalyst for progress, unlocking untapped potential and empowering individuals across all walks of life.

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Drew Taylor, Technical Consultant

Drew is a technical consultant at Perficient. He enjoys writing code and books, talking AI, and advocating accessibility.

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