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Instrumental convergence: the paper clip maximizer concept

Instrumental convergence: the paper clip maximizer concept

The paperclip maximiser is a thought experiment described by Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom in 2003. It illustrates the existential risk that an artificial general intelligence can pose to humans when programmed to pursue even seemingly benign goals, and the need to incorporate machine ethics into the design of artificial intelligence.

The scenario describes an advanced AI tasked with making paper clips. If such a machine were not programmed to value human life, then, given enough power over its environment, it would attempt to turn all matter in the universe, including human beings, into either paperclips or machines that make paperclips.


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This highlights the ridiculous nature of optimisation. The paperclip maximiser example illustrates the general problem of managing powerful systems that lack human values. As noted above, optimising one aspect of the system doesn’t necessarily make the whole thing better.


Sometimes inefficiency can be the result of a sub-optimal reality. But that reality keeps you focused on understanding what and where it needs extra focus and resources to be further optimised. That’s something we should all keep in mind when looking at many things.

I think one of the fascinating things about the Western world is that it’s always about progress, and that’s wonderful. I’m part of that. People are creative, people dream, people turn dreams into reality. But at the same time it can mean that focusing on one dimension is not so beneficial for other aspects of the same life.

Sometimes inefficiency can be the result of the “we don’t care” mentality. The “I can live with this pain” mentality. The sub-optimal reality we have created around ourselves.

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