Radical Reads

How to Think About ‘Artificial General Intelligence’ and AI Sentience

By Radical Editorial

Intelligence comes in many forms. Octopuses are highly intelligent—and completely unlike humans. Image Source: New York Times via Forbes

Driven by breathtaking recent technology advances, the AI world has been buzzing with discussion and debate about superintelligence and “artificial general intelligence”—the question of whether and when AI will surpass humanity’s cognitive abilities.

The discourse intensified this summer when Google engineer Blake Lemoine publicly claimed that one of Google’s large language models, named LaMDA, had become sentient, generating a tidal wide of headlines and controversy (and leading Google to fire Lemoine).

Radical Partner Rob Toews presents his takes on these topics in his latest Forbes column. In short, Rob argues that the public discourse on these topics needs to be fundamentally reframed, with both sides of the debate off the mark in some important ways in their thinking about AI.

Lemoine himself weighed in on Rob’s article on Twitter, calling it “really insightful” (though noting that they disagree on a few points). We share an excerpt from the article below, which you can read in full at Forbes.


A basic principle about AI that people too often miss is that artificial intelligence is and will be fundamentally unlike human intelligence.

It is a mistake to analogize artificial intelligence too directly to human intelligence. Today’s AI is not simply a “less evolved” form of human intelligence; nor will tomorrow’s hyper-advanced AI be just a more powerful version of human intelligence.

Many different modes and dimensions of intelligence are possible. Artificial intelligence is best thought of not as an imperfect emulation of human intelligence, but rather as a distinct, alien form of intelligence, whose contours and capabilities differ from our own in basic ways.

What is the upshot of all of this? There is no such thing as “artificial general intelligence”. AGI is neither possible nor impossible. It is, rather, incoherent as a concept.

To define “general” or “true” AI as AI that can do what humans do (but better)—to think that human intelligence is general intelligence—is myopically human-centric. If we use human intelligence as the ultimate anchor and yardstick for the development of artificial intelligence, we will miss out on the full range of powerful, profound, unexpected, societally beneficial, utterly non-human abilities that machine intelligence might be capable of.


Rob writes a regular column for Forbes about artificial intelligence.

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Radical Reads is edited by Leah Morris (Senior Director, Velocity Program, Radical Ventures).