Part 1: Senseless Machines

“Is this a tool we've built or a creature we've built?”

  • Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI

In spite of declining birth rates, civilization will grow by two orders of magnitude this century and surpass 100 billion thinking, creative, and productive inhabitants in the next two decades.

Tens of billions of connected computers, cars, robots, and toasters will work together to build and maintain the edifice of civilization, intelligently allocating and moving resources to where they are needed.

We don’t have to believe in AGI or machine sentience to recognize that the workforce of civilization is at the cusp of a truly radical growth spurt. For better or worse, the energy output of civilization will be multiplied, consumed, and directed by machine intelligence at an ever-increasing rate.

In 2014, Naval Ravikant sagely predicted that we would need a fifth protocol, beyond the four foundational protocols that make up the internet as we know it today, to programmatically manage the allocation of energy and resources between machines.

1) Link Layer: The physical hardware connections over things like Ethernet and Wi-Fi that enable devices to send and receive data over a network.

2) Internet Layer: Routes packets of data to their destination over multiple interconnected networks.

3) Transport Layer: The transport layer ensures the reliable and orderly delivery of data packets, managing flow control, error checking, and data segmentation.

4) Application Layer: Protocols like HTTP, SMTP, and FTP that allow applications to interface with the internet.

The fifth protocol would allow machines to exchange value with each other at the speed of machine thought. Machine agents wishing to negotiate and allocate the use of scarce resources need a universal protocol to express, store, and transfer value between each other.

Imagining our cities full of self-driving and coordinating cars and robots, Naval pictured them negotiating lane merges and overtaking on some kind of communication channel. The road is a scarce resource, after all, and so is time, and the human or machine agents employing the car or robot have different economic preferences.

Some form of programmable representation of value that can move at the speed of machines and transact in fragments of cents in fractions of a second seems to be a necessary condition for the smart cities of the future. At the time, Naval thought cryptocurrency represented a potential candidate for the fifth layer.

  1. Trade Layer: A way to express, store, and transfer value and ownership between machines.

But Naval missed the need for yet another protocol of even greater machine importance. How could these machines reason about the road, and the world in general, without a shared sense and understanding of our physical space? Machines that only consume the internet cannot reason about the physical world.

Today, our digital devices lack a critical sense that humans take for granted. The ultimate incarnation of AI will require a sense of space: machine proprioception.

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