Cryptocurrencies and machine intelligence

Recently, cryptocurrencies have become popular, with some interesting practical implementations of them being discovered.

In my opinion, the topic of cryptocurrencies interacts with the topic of machine intelligence in two main ways:

  • Intelligent machines may engage in utility counterfeiting. Using a cryptocurrencies to represent utility could help to prevent this;
  • Cryptocurrencies reduce dependency on a trusted third party to manage transactions, facilitating trade between machines;

Combating utility counterfeiting
Utility counterfeiting is an umbrella term that covers the main ways of getting utility without performing the corresponding real work. These are: direct manufacture of utility (think: wireheading) and self-stimulation that recreates sensory states associated with high utility (think: pornography).

A natural response to utility counterfeiting is to use a cryptocurrency to represent utility - since these are normally immune to counterfeiting.

An intelligent machine is generally thought of as being a single actor. Cryptocurrencies are mostly useful when you require a consensus (about who owns what) between multiple actors - some of whom may be untrustworthy. So: at first glance, cryptography may seem to be unnecessary. However, large intelligences may more closely resemble a society than a single actor - and in this case it is easier to see how a cryptocurrency could prevent problems associated with counterfeit utility. They would certainly avoid the equivalent of hyperinflation due to banks printing large quantities of additional money.

Facilitating trade between machines is another likely application of cryptocurrencies. Money revolutionised human society, dramatically facilitating trade. Public key cryptography led to another revolution in trade - by allowing private channels to be established between widely-separated individuals. It seems plausible that cryptocurrencies will also facilitate trade. We have already seen that cryptocurrencies can facilitate trade in items that are illegal - by offering traders anonymity. Cryptocurrencies can also eliminate the possibility that the trusted party who manages the transactions will take their own cut.

Recently Steve Omohundro has looked into the intersection of cryptocurrencies and machine intelligence. Check out his site for more information on this interesting topic.


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