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Envisioning the AI Ecosystem of Tomorrow: Perspectives and Principles

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What will the future of artificial intelligence (AI) encompass?  How can we gain a comprehensive overview of AI’s evolving landscape? The research paper “Designing Ecosystems of Intelligence from First Principles” by Friston et al. (2024) outlines a forward-looking vision for the field of artificial intelligence (AI) over the next decade and beyond. This vision focuses on the development of a cyber-physical ecosystem comprising both natural and synthetic elements that collectively contribute to what is termed “shared intelligence.” This concept underscores the integral role of humans within these ecosystems. The paper emphasizes a specific approach to AI known as “active inference,” which is seen as a physics-based approach to understanding and designing intelligent agents. This approach shares foundational principles with quantum, classical, and statistical mechanics​​.

Active inference is applied to AI design, suggesting that next-generation AI systems should be equipped with explicit beliefs about the world, incorporating a specific perspective under a generative model​​. This contrasts with traditional AI approaches like reinforcement learning, which focuses primarily on action selection to maximize rewards. In active inference, exploration and curiosity are viewed as equally fundamental to intelligence, driving actions expected to reduce uncertainty​​.

The multi-scale architecture of active inference is another crucial aspect. It acknowledges different temporal scales in learning and model selection, operating in similar ways across nested timescales to maximize model evidence​​. Intelligence, in this context, is inherently perspectival, involving active engagement with the world from a specific set of beliefs​​.

Communication within these intelligent systems is also a key theme. The paper argues that intelligence at any scale requires a shared generative model and a common ground, which can be achieved through various methods like ensemble learning, mixtures of experts, and Bayesian model averaging​​. An important aspect of active inference in this context is the selection of messages or viewpoints that provide the greatest expected information gain​​.

Finally, the paper addresses ethical considerations, emphasizing the importance of valuing and safeguarding individuality in the development of large-scale collective intelligence systems. This approach contrasts with models like eusocial insects, where individuals are largely replaceable. The authors advocate for a cyber-physical network of emergent intelligence that respects the individuality of all participants, human or otherwise​​.

In summary, Friston et al.’s white paper presents a visionary approach to AI development, centered around active inference and the creation of intelligent ecosystems that incorporate and respect the individuality of both human and non-human agents. This approach suggests a significant paradigm shift in how AI is conceptualized and developed, with implications for the future of technology and society.

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