Program Synthesis – A path to AGI?


Lets talk about Artificial General Intelligence or AGI. AGI is the idea that a computer system can be created that can solve almost all types of problems using general intelligence. General intelligence could be described to being similar to the type of intelligence that a human being uses to solve problems everyday. Humans all have very similar brains and anatomy, yet they can specialize to work in very different fields and also maintain the ability to do common tasks such as drive cars or operate a microwave. This general intelligence humans use on a day to day basis is taken for granted as not really being a big deal, but in the world of Artificial Intelligence, this is a very big deal.

If AGI can be created to match even average human intelligence, the world is going to change at an exponential rate. “Why is that?” , you say. Well think about it this way, if an AGI instance can be created on the fly, then thousands or millions of AGI instances can be created on the fly. If you need one thousand worker robots that all work on different tasks, no problem, just load up the code and press enter. If you need a million man robot army just press enter. If you need an autonomous factory, full of workers, managers and research scientists, just press enter. You say…”I don’t think it would be that easy”, well which part? You might think that designing a factory and filling it with specialized machines and workers and figuring out legal and contractual issues might be something that would have to be dealt with prior to such an enterprise, but I beg to differ. General intelligence can solve all of these problems and more. In fact sufficient general intelligence can solve all problems that have every been solved by humanity so far. Once this ability to solve all sorts of problems is ‘canned’ in an easily reproducible system, all the rules of our previous society are out the window.

Now that we have sort of outlined how big of a deal this is, lets talk about how something like this might happen. There are many different approaches people have taken in the past to try and produce AGI. I think one of the most promising paths to a potential AGI is something called Program Synthesis. This is basically the idea that a computer generates programs to solve problems. Programming is a very complicated task and requires knowledge of a programming languages syntax as well as programming techniques to accomplish certain types of tasks. All the skills required to provide meaningful programming solutions to problems mean that creating the program — that can program, is not a trivial task. In fact, it is extremely hard. That being said, recently a company called Deep Mind has been working on program synthesis in a project called ‘AlphaCode’. According to this article, they have managed to produce results that match up to an average computer programmer. In other words, Deep Mind has started competing in online coding competitions with their AlphaCode system and have recently ranked in the 54% percentile.

With extremely impressive results like these, it appears we are much closer to actually having a way to program without having to actually program. This means we can soon generate code much faster and with much less money and education. It is my opinion that the most creative people in our world, do not actually know how to code. If program synthesis becomes available to everyone, people with no experience coding, may be able to creatively solve our biggest problems. These people may even be able to create new ways of solving problems, such as the creation of AGI. With tools like program synthesis apparently knocking at the door, it appears the door to hyperspace might just have cracked open.

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