What is artificial general intelligence (AGI)?

by Stephen M. Walker II, Co-Founder / CEO

What is artificial general intelligence (AGI)?

Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) is a hypothetical form of artificial intelligence that could learn to accomplish any intellectual task that human beings or animals can perform. It is defined as an autonomous system that surpasses human capabilities in the majority of economically valuable tasks. AGI is also referred to as strong AI, contrasting with weak or narrow AI, which is the application of artificial intelligence to specific tasks or problems.

AGI is characterized by its ability to perform tasks that require human-like intelligence, such as abstract thinking, understanding cause and effect, and transfer learning. It should also be capable of handling various types of learning and learning algorithms, understanding symbol systems, using different kinds of knowledge, understanding belief systems, and engaging in metacognition.

The timeline for AGI development remains a subject of ongoing debate among researchers and experts. Some argue that it may be possible in years or decades; others maintain it might take a century or longer; and a minority believe it may never be achieved. There is also debate regarding whether modern large language models, such as GPT-4, are early yet incomplete forms of AGI or if new approaches are required.

The development of AGI is a primary goal of some artificial intelligence research and of companies such as OpenAI, DeepMind, and Anthropic. However, as of now, no true AGI systems exist; they remain the stuff of science fiction. The theoretical performance of these systems would be indistinguishable from that of a human, and the broad intellectual capacities of AGI would exceed human capacities because of its ability to access and process huge data sets at incredible speeds.

The future of AGI is uncertain, with many experts skeptical that AGI will ever be possible. Some question whether it is even desirable. However, if realized, AGI could have a transformative impact on society, similar to the agricultural revolution.

What is the history of artificial general intelligence (AGI)?

Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) is a hypothetical type of intelligent agent that could learn to accomplish any intellectual task that human beings or animals can perform. If realized, an AGI could surpass human capabilities in the majority of economically valuable tasks. The concept of AGI has been a primary goal of some artificial intelligence research and of companies such as OpenAI, DeepMind, and Anthropic.

The idea of AGI has been around since the inception of AI in the 1950s. The seeds of modern AI were planted by philosophers who attempted to describe the process of human thinking as the mechanical manipulation of symbols. This work culminated in the invention of the programmable digital computer in the 1940s, a machine based on the abstract essence of mathematical reasoning. This device and the ideas behind it inspired a handful of scientists to begin seriously discussing the possibility of building an electronic brain. The field of AI research was officially founded at a workshop held on the campus of Dartmouth College, USA during the summer of 1956.

Despite the early optimism, the capabilities of AI programs were limited in the early years. Even the most impressive could only handle trivial versions of the problems they were supposed to solve. AI researchers had begun to run into several fundamental limits that could not be overcome in the 1970s. Although some of these limits would be conquered in later decades, others still stymie the field to this day.

Recent advances in deep learning and neural networks have renewed interest in AGI. Deep learning, a specialized branch of machine learning, was originally inspired by biological models of computation and cognition in the human brain. One of its major strengths is its potential to extract higher-level features from raw input data. However, current systems are still narrow AI focused on specific tasks. There is debate regarding whether modern large language models, such as GPT-4, are early yet incomplete forms of AGI or if new approaches are required.

Many other categories of AGI problems are yet to be solved - from causality, to learning efficiently and transfer - and as algorithms become more general, more real-world problems will be solved, gradually contributing to a system that one day will help solve everything else. The timeline for AGI development remains a subject of ongoing debate among researchers and experts. Some argue that it may be possible in years or decades; others maintain it might take a century or longer; and a minority believe it may never be achieved.

What is the difference between narrow and generation artificial intelligence?

Narrow AI, also known as weak AI, is a type of artificial intelligence that is designed to perform specific tasks with a high level of proficiency. These tasks can range from playing games like chess or Go, to image and facial recognition, language translation, and even identifying cancer from medical images. Some examples of narrow AI include chatbots and virtual assistants like Google Assistant, Siri, and Alexa, self-driving vehicles, predictive maintenance models, and recommendation engines.

Narrow AI systems can often perform these tasks better than humans. For instance, a weak AI system designed to identify cancer from X-ray or ultrasound images might be able to spot a cancerous mass in images faster and more accurately than a trained radiologist. However, these systems are limited in their capabilities. They can only do what they are designed to do and can only make decisions based on their training data. They lack the ability to think abstractly or transfer knowledge to new domains.

Furthermore, narrow AI systems are prone to bias and can often give incorrect results while being unable to explain them. This is because these systems are often trained on massive amounts of data, which can contain biases or incorrect information.

In contrast, artificial general intelligence (AGI), sometimes called strong AI, is a theoretical AI system that could be applied to any task or problem. AGI involves a system with comprehensive knowledge and cognitive capabilities such that its performance is indistinguishable from that of a human, although its speed and ability to process data is far greater. However, such a system has not yet been developed, and expert opinions differ as to whether such a system is even possible to create.

Yann LeCun, Meta's Chief AI Scientist and a winner of the Turing Award, argues that new approaches are needed to create more capable, general architectures. He believes the key is to move beyond narrow pattern recognition and text generation tasks towards AI that can reason, plan, and understand the physics of the world.

While narrow AI systems have made significant strides in performing specific tasks, they still lack the general intelligence and ability to transfer learning from one domain to another like humans can. The path to achieving artificial general intelligence is still a long way off and will require rethinking system architectures and training methods.

What are the goals of artificial general intelligence (AGI)?

Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) aims to replicate human cognitive abilities in software, enabling the system to find solutions to unfamiliar tasks. The goal is for AGI to perform any task that a human being is capable of. This includes abstract thinking, background knowledge, common sense, understanding cause and effect, and transfer learning. AGI should theoretically be able to perform tasks such as improving human-generated code, recognizing colors, perceiving depth and three dimensions in static images, and handling various types of learning and learning algorithms.

AGI is considered to be strong AI, contrasting with weak or narrow AI, which is the application of artificial intelligence to specific tasks or problems. While narrow AI is in practical use today, AGI remains theoretical. The performance of AGI should be as good as or better than humans at solving problems in most areas.

The ultimate goal of AGI is to reproduce intelligence as a whole. This includes the ability to understand symbol systems, use different kinds of knowledge, understand belief systems, and engage in metacognition and make use of metacognitive knowledge.

OpenAI, for instance, aims to ensure that AGI benefits all of humanity. They envision AGI as a technology that could elevate humanity by increasing abundance, turbocharging the global economy, and aiding in the discovery of new scientific knowledge. However, they also acknowledge the serious risks of misuse, drastic accidents, and societal disruption that come with AGI.

Despite the potential benefits, the development of AGI remains a subject of ongoing debate among researchers and experts. Some argue that it may be possible in years or decades; others maintain it might take a century or longer; and a minority believe it may never be achieved.

How could artificial general intelligence (AGI) be used in business or governance?

Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) is a theoretical concept of AI that can perform any task a human can, exhibiting a range of intelligence in different areas without human intervention. Its performance should be as good as or better than humans at solving problems in most areas. While AGI does not exist yet, its potential applications in business and governance are vast and transformative.

Business Applications

AGI's potential applications in business are transformative and wide-ranging. It could automate a large majority of white-collar tasks, enhancing efficiency and productivity while freeing humans from mundane tasks. This automation could lead to job displacement in certain sectors, but it could also create new demand and job opportunities.

Existing AI systems, such as self-driving cars, could benefit from AGI's ability to handle decision-making in ambiguous situations, improving their performance and safety. Furthermore, AGI could excel in data analysis, customer sentiment analysis, and data visualization, thereby enhancing business analytics and intelligence tools. It could also refine recommendation engines, voice assistants, and image recognition applications.

Governance Applications

AGI's potential applications in governance are vast. It could manage complex urban infrastructures, aid in achieving climate change goals, counter transnational organized crime, and ensure water-energy-food availability. It could also strategize to prevent wars, protect democracy, and uphold human rights.

The governance of AGI itself is equally crucial. With the possibility of AGI emerging within the next decade, it's imperative to establish global governance systems and international agreements for AGI development and management. This includes creating AGI algorithm audit standards, preventing AGI misuse by organized crime and terrorism, and ensuring flexible governance systems to address new issues.

Risks and Challenges

The potential of AGI is vast, promising transformative applications in business and governance. However, it's not without significant risks and challenges, including the spread of disinformation, privacy violations, weaponization, sudden job displacement, and power concentration. Therefore, it's imperative to establish robust governance systems and safeguards to ensure the benefits of AGI are maximized while mitigating its risks.

What ethical considerations are there with artificial general intelligence (AGI)?

Ethical considerations with AGI include:

  1. Misuse and unintended consequences — AGI could be used for malicious purposes or lead to unforeseen negative outcomes.
  2. Loss of human agency — AGI could replace human decision-making, raising concerns about autonomy and the value of human input.
  3. Bias and fairness — AGI systems could perpetuate or exacerbate existing biases, leading to unfair treatment of certain groups.
  4. Transparency and accountability — AGI systems may be opaque, making it difficult to understand their decision-making processes and hold them accountable for their actions.
  5. Safety and value alignment — Ensuring AGI systems are safe and aligned with human values is a complex challenge, requiring careful consideration of diverse perspectives and mitigation of biases.
  6. Governance and regulation — Collaborative governance and international cooperation are crucial to establish ethical guidelines, regulations, and inclusive decision-making processes that involve diverse stakeholders.

Addressing these ethical considerations is essential for the responsible development and deployment of AGI. By focusing on safety, transparency, value alignment, and governance, we can work towards a future where AGI benefits humanity while minimizing potential risks.

What are some of the approaches to building AGI?

There are several approaches to building AGI, including Symbolic AI, Connectionist approaches, and Hybrid systems.

Symbolic AI

Symbolic AI, also known as the symbolic approach, represents knowledge and reasoning explicitly. It uses high-level symbolic (human-readable) representations of problems, logic, and search. This approach allows us to represent concepts and their interrelationships in a similar way the brain does. Symbolic AI provides a framework for knowledge representation and reasoning, enabling AI systems to reason and plan based on explicit rules and logical deductions. This approach allows for greater interpretability and control over the decision-making processes of AGI systems.

Connectionist Approaches

Connectionist approaches, such as neural networks, aim to mimic the learning and generalization abilities of the human brain. These approaches utilize architectures resembling the human brain, such as neural nets, to create general intelligence. The complexity and scalability of neural networks make them better suited for handling the vast amounts of data and real-world uncertainties involved in AGI tasks.

Hybrid Systems

Hybrid systems combine symbolic AI with deep learning neural networks. The hybrid approach is a blend of the connectionist and symbolic systems. It represents both symbolic and sub-symbolic knowledge via a single knowledge representation. The architectures leading the AGI race tend to utilize the hybrid approach. For example, the CogPrime architecture represents both symbolic and sub-symbolic knowledge via a single knowledge representation, which is termed as AtomSpace.

In reality, the debate between the symbolic and connectionist paradigms is not a binary choice, but rather a continuum. Both approaches have their strengths and weaknesses and can complement each other in the quest for AGI. A combination of these paradigms may yield the most promising results for achieving AGI.

What are the current challenges to Artificial General Intelligence (AGI)?

Achieving Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) presents several significant challenges:


Current AI systems often struggle to scale effectively to more complex tasks. Each use case can be unique and require specialized effort, making scalability difficult to achieve. As AI systems become more complex and sophisticated, they require more computational resources, which can be expensive and difficult to manage.

Knowledge Representation and Reasoning

Knowledge Representation and Reasoning is a central, longstanding, and active area of Artificial Intelligence. Current AI systems often lack common sense knowledge and reasoning abilities. They struggle to understand and represent the world in the same way humans do, which limits their ability to reason and make decisions. This is a significant challenge in the development of AGI, as it requires machines to understand and represent a wide range of concepts and relationships.

Transfer Learning

Current AI systems often struggle with transfer learning, which is the ability to apply knowledge learned in one context to a different context. This is a significant challenge for AGI, as it requires machines to be able to generalize from one task to another. Current AI systems are typically designed to perform specific tasks and struggle to apply their learning to new, unseen tasks.

Testing and Evaluation Metrics

There is a lack of agreed-upon ways to measure progress towards AGI. Most current benchmarks in artificial intelligence measure performance on narrow tasks and are not indicative of general intelligence. The field is still searching for adequate tests to better evaluate progress towards AGI. This makes it difficult to assess how close we are to achieving AGI and to compare different approaches and systems.

While AGI holds enormous promise, it also presents significant technical and philosophical challenges. These challenges must be carefully considered and addressed in order to make progress towards achieving AGI.

What are the risks associated with artificial general intelligence (AGI)?

Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) systems, while promising, pose several risks that need to be mitigated. These risks span across privacy, cybersecurity, regulatory compliance, third-party relationships, legal obligations, and intellectual property. Here are some proposed solutions to mitigate these risks:

  1. Robust Enterprise-Wide Controls — Organizations should institute robust enterprise-wide controls to guide the development and use of AGI systems, ensure proper oversight, and put into place strong policies, procedures, worker training, and contingency plans.

  2. Cybersecurity Measures — Implementing technical measures like encryption, access controls, or robustness testing can help mitigate cybersecurity risks. Regular software updates and patching, as well as periodic penetration tests on the AGI solutions, are also recommended.

  3. Threat Modeling — Conducting threat modeling exercises can help identify potential security threats to AGI systems and assess their impact. This involves documenting the business functions and objectives of each AGI-driven solution, identifying the AI platforms, solutions, components, technologies, and hardware, defining the flows, classifications, and sensitivity for the data that the AGI technology will use and output, identifying potential threats, assessing the potential impacts of identified threats, and developing and implementing mitigation strategies and countermeasures.

  4. Ethical Considerations — Organizations need to prioritize the responsible use of AGI by ensuring it is accurate, safe, honest, empowering, and sustainable. This includes using zero or first-party data, keeping data fresh and well-labeled, ensuring there's a human in the loop, testing and re-testing, and getting feedback.

  5. Risk Management — Risk professionals can help your company use AGI safely, securely, and resiliently. They can help confirm that it's appropriately private, fair with harmful bias managed, valid and reliable, accountable and transparent, and explainable and interpretable.

  6. Legal and Regulatory Compliance — Keeping up with new regulations and stronger enforcement of existing regulations that apply to AGI is crucial. Lax data security measures can publicly expose the company's trade secrets and other proprietary information as well as customer data.

  7. AI Governance Strategy — Having an effective AI governance strategy will be vital. This includes data scientists and engineers; data providers; specialists in the field of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility; user experience designers, functional leaders, and product managers.

  8. Responsible AI Practices — Incorporating "responsible AI" practices can help bridge the trust gap. This includes developing AI and analytics systems methodically, enabling high-quality and documented systems that are reflective of an organization's beliefs and values, and minimizing unintended harms.

Remember, these are just some of the proposed solutions and the actual implementation may vary based on the specific context and requirements of your organization.

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