John Carmack — id Software co-founder and a computer scientist of general renown, who since 2013 has served as the Chief Technical Officer of VR headset maker Oculus — has reached the fourth and final stage of evolution as a Rich White Guy With a Lot of Academic Intelligence and Time. As written in the ancient texts, this metamorphosis necessitates that he now work to solve the problem of artificial general intelligence (AGI), rather than continuing to work on building better headsets for clearer, more accurate hentai simulations.
“Starting this week, I’m moving to a ‘Consulting CTO’ position with Oculus,” Carmack said on Facebook. “I will still have a voice in the development work, but it will only be consuming a modest slice of my time.”
The shift to working on artificial general intelligence comes from a desire to tackle a problem for which he does not have a “clear line of sight,” according to the announcement. “When I think back over everything I have done across games, aerospace, and VR, I have always felt that I had at least a vague ‘line of sight’ to the solutions, even if they were unconventional or unproven. I have sometimes wondered how I would fare with a problem where the solution really isn’t in sight. I decided that I should give it a try before I get too old.”
Carmack supposes that he has a “non-negligible chance of making a difference” in the field of AGI, and that AGI’s potentially enormous benefit to mankind makes it one of the few logical targets of his attention. He also considered “cost effective nuclear fission reactors” as another post-Oculus endeavor, but decided to go with AGI since he can work on it from home in a “Victorian Gentleman Scientist” fashion, with the aid of his son.
Oculus, for its part, issued a brief statement on its official Twitter account: “Whether CTO or Victorian Gentleman Scientist, we’re glad you’re still on board to make VR magic happen with us. Looking forward to our next impromptu Beat Saber showdown!” No indication has been given, from either side, whether Carmack’s void at Oculus will be filled by another, full-time CTO. Seems like something a technology company would probably want, but what do I know? I pooped so big today that my toilet won’t flush and now I have to move.
Artificial general intelligence research aims to create an AI that can learn or do basically anything that a human intelligence is capable of learning or doing. This field differs from normal AI research, which generally looks to optimize artificial intelligence for a specialized task, broad or narrow as that task may be.
Several years of internet conjecture and boisterous posturing from futurists have turned most conversations about AGI into conversations about the Singularity, which is a pseudo-scientific theory (at best) claiming that at some mythical point in the future, an exponentially self-improving artificial intelligence will rapidly and irrevocably transform itself into a god. This is either good or bad, depending on who you ask, but people who actually work in artificial intelligence regularly consider it to be a flight of sci-fi fancy.