Doom developer John Carmack thinks artificial general intelligence is doable by 2030

Suggests we might not have AI at all if it weren't for Quake

Legendary software developer John Carmack, who gave the world the first-person shooter, thinks it's likely an artificial general intelligence (AGI) could be shown to the public around the year 2030.

Carmack shared his view at an event for the announcement [Video] that his AGI startup Keen has hired Richard Sutton, chief scientific advisor at the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute. Carmack described Sutton as "the godfather of reinforcement learning" and said that makes him ideally positioned to lead work on an AGI – an artificial intelligence that approximates human behavior.

Sutton told the event he does not think coding an AGI is infeasible with current techniques, adding that he sees a target of 2030 as possible for a "prototype AI to show signs of life."

During the event, Sutton and Carmack named a handful of Keen staff who will work on the project. Both acknowledged that Keen's team is tiny – as is the $20 million of funding it has secured, compared to the billions of dollars and hundreds of workers at larger AI outfits.

But Sutton and the Keen team are sufficiently audacious they believe they can make a contribution.

Carmack weighed in with his opinion that while "Nobody has line of sight on a solution to this today, we feel there is not that much left to do." Those remaining problems, he said, don't require entirely new thinking or architectures.

"There are fundamental research questions that need to be answered, and we have internal projects and angles of attack," he suggested, adding that he expects that future textbooks on how to build AGIs will include a chapter on the work Keen and others will do in coming years.

And he believes that effort will soon produce something that looks like success.

"We are six, seven, eight years out from something really big and important being publicly visible."

In a subsequent Q&A session Carmack mused that the present state of AI may only be possible due to his work on seminal game Quake – which followed Doom, which followed Wolfenstein 3D – as it sparked demand for GPUs. He credited Nvidia's Jensen Huang with recognizing the GPU's potential to handle other computing chores, thereby sparking the current AI boom, but still took pride in his contribution.

Carmack also revealed that OpenAI CEO Sam Altman once tried to hire him, despite his complete lack of AI experience at the time. While he turned down the offer, Carmack became curious about AI. Monday's announcement was one result.

He's since boned up on the subject to the extent that he opined "Concerns that the monolithic nature of the models [used at the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute] may not capture some of the human brain's work as a much more distributed semi-consensus-finding system.'

In computer science, he said, there's a tendency to draw "neat boxes." His opinion is that our sole proven model for how consciousness works – the human brain – shows that intelligence is more complex.

"The important thing is about how an AI can digest its experience into its view of the world and how it predicts things going forward and how it needs to have motivations both internally and externally imposed."

Those issues, he said, are not addressed by large language models, which don't address how our brains work. Yet every lab in the world, he said, is currently "throwing resources" at such models.

"Being a bit contrarian, both of us, I think is a positive thing," he added, with reference to Keen pursuing AGI. Carmack also observed that Keen has no deadline or pressure to deliver a product.

Phew. ®

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