Minds Making Minds: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity

Steve Omohundro, Ph.D.

President, Omai Systems


We are at a remarkable moment in human history. Many believe that we are on the verge of major advances in artificial intelligence, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and robotics. Together, these technologies have the potential to solve many of humanity’s perennial problems: disease, aging, war, poverty, transportation, pollution, etc. But they also introduce a host of new challenges and will force us to look closely at our deepest desires and assumptions as we work to forge a new future.


Steve Omohundro

John von Neumann contributed to many aspects of this revolution. In addition to defining the architecture of today’s computers, he did early work on artificial intelligence, self-reproducing automata, systems of logic, and the foundations of microeconomics and game theory. Stan Ulam recalled conversations with von Neumann in the 1950’s in which he argued that we are “approaching some essential singularity in the history of the race”. The modern notion of a “rational economic agent” arose from his work in microeconomics and is central to the design of modern AI systems. We will describe how use this notion to better understand “intentional systems” including artificially intelligent systems but also ourselves, biological organisms, organizations, ecosystems, economic systems, and political systems.


Fully rational minds may be analyzed with mathematical precision but are too computationally expensive to run on today’s computers. But the intentional systems we care about are also not arbitrarily irrational. They are built by designers or evolutionary processes to fulfill specific purposes. Evolution relentlessly shapes creatures to survive and replicate, economies shape corporations to maximize profits, parents shape children  to fit into society, and AI designers shape their systems to act in beneficial ways. We introduce a precise mathematical model that we call the “Rationally-Shaped Mind” model which consists of a fully rational mind that designs or adapts a computationally limited mind. We can precisely analyze this kind of system to better understand and design real systems.


This analysis shows that as resources increase, there is a natural progression of minds from simple stimulus-response systems, to systems that learn, to systems that deliberate, to systems that self-improve. It also shows that certain challenging drives arise in uncontrolled intentional systems: toward self-improvement, self-protection, avoidance of shutdown, self-reproduction, co-opting of resources, uncontrolled hardware construction, manipulation of human and economic systems, etc. We describe the work we are doing at Omai Systems to build safe intelligent systems that use formal methods to constrain behavior and to choose goals that align with human values. We envision a staged development of technologies in which early safe limited systems are used to develop more powerful successors and to help us clarify longer term goals. Enormous work will be needed but the consequences will transform the human future in ways that we can only begin to understand today.


1 Response » to “Abstract – Steve Omohundro – Minds Making Minds: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity”

Leave a Reply