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Contests Home

Current Essay Contest

Contest Partner: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Fund.

Previous Contests

Wandering Towards a Goal
How can mindless mathematical laws give rise to aims and intention?
December 2, 2016 to March 3, 2017
Contest Partner: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Fund.

Trick or Truth: The Mysterious Connection Between Physics and Mathematics
Contest Partners: Nanotronics Imaging, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, and The John Templeton Foundation
Media Partner: Scientific American


How Should Humanity Steer the Future?
January 9, 2014 - August 31, 2014
Contest Partners: Jaan Tallinn, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, The John Templeton Foundation, and Scientific American

It From Bit or Bit From It
March 25 - June 28, 2013
Contest Partners: The Gruber Foundation, J. Templeton Foundation, and Scientific American

Questioning the Foundations
Which of Our Basic Physical Assumptions Are Wrong?
May 24 - August 31, 2012
Contest Partners: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, SubMeta, and Scientific American

Is Reality Digital or Analog?
November 2010 - February 2011
Contest Partners: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation and Scientific American

What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?
May - October 2009
Contest Partners: Astrid and Bruce McWilliams

The Nature of Time
August - December 2008

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March 18, 2018

CATEGORY: Wandering Towards a Goal Essay Contest (2016-2017) [back]
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Author Pawel Konzal wrote on Feb. 14, 2017 @ 16:20 GMT
Essay Abstract

An ability to set original (i.e. undreamed-of-yet) goals would be a fundamental breakthrough for the artificial (i.e. non-human) systems on the path to their independence from human-imposed boundaries. This essay proposes two tests which would establish - without anthropocentric references - if a system is capable of setting original goals either out of its own volition or under a clear instruction to do so.

Author Bio

Pawel Konzal is a former CEO of a company listed on the Poland’s stock exchange; he held senior positions in the industry, government & international organizations in USA, Switzerland, Poland & Belgium with extensive experience in Western Africa and Indonesia. Pawel attended graduate & postgraduate studies in Economics, Philosophy, International Relations & Diplomacy in USA (Chicago), Italy and Poland as well as seminars on AI (Aspen Institute) and neuroscience (Rice University). He established the Good Society Institute – focused on enabling a dignified life free of fear for all - and Ruch 3 Maja – concentrated on modernization of the Polish society.

Download Essay PDF File

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Joe Fisher wrote on Feb. 14, 2017 @ 17:03 GMT
Dear Dr. Konzai,

Please excuse me for I do not wish to be too critical of your fine essay and I do hope that it fairs well in the competition.

Only nature could produce a reality so simple, a single cell amoeba could deal with it.

As you cited in your essay: “Out of clutter, find simplicity. From discord, find harmony. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity. Albert Einstein “

The real Universe must consist only of one unified visible infinite physical surface occurring in one infinite dimension, that am always illuminated by infinite non-surface light.

A more detailed explanation of natural reality can be found in my essay, SCORE ONE FOR SIMPLICITY. I do hope that you will read my essay and comment on its merit.

Joe Fisher, Realist

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Author Pawel Konzal replied on Feb. 20, 2017 @ 20:55 GMT
Dear Mr Fisher,

As we are part of nature (aren't we?) maybe we can also produce 'a reality so simple, a single cell amoeba could deal with'-)

I hope you will take this comment with a sympathy similar to the one I write it with.

While reality might be complex and complicated, it does not mean that it cannot be judged / evaluated by seemingly simple tests without falling into a trap of being simplistic.

Thank you for time you took to read my essay and comment on it. I look forward to reading your essay tonight.

Kind regards,

Pawel Konzal

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John C Hodge wrote on Feb. 15, 2017 @ 00:17 GMT
Does any essay in this contest pass your test?


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Author Pawel Konzal replied on Feb. 20, 2017 @ 20:50 GMT
Dear Hodge,

That is a very good question. There are two parts of response:

1) Precise one (localized) - I will let you know once I finish reading all essays if / which of them would pass test I have set in my essay.

2) General one (globalized) - humankind (as species) is capable of coming up with original (what I refer to as 'undreamed-of-yet') ideas. However, that does not mean that each individual or in all instances is capable of coming up with such ideas - but as a 'kind' we can do it.

Similarly, if a system will be capable of coming up with original ideas - it will be what I define as having ASOG (ability to set original goals). To account for the fact that also such a system (i.e. with ASOG) might not be able to come up always and in each instance with original ideas I included the repeatability of the test (page 3).

I hope this responds to your very well-thought questions.

Best regards,


PS. I apologize for a delay in response - I was offline in mountains - with my brain 'wondering about'-))))))

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Harry Hamlin Ricker III wrote on Feb. 15, 2017 @ 13:45 GMT
Hi Pawel,

I liked this essay because it does address the artificial intelligence aspect of the implied essay topic. I say implied, because I think the topic means different things to different people. I can understand how you interpreted the topic in terms of your world of experience, and you brought to your essay your ideas about the world as they related to the essay assignment.

My reaction to the essay assignment, was entirely different from yours, and I have noticed everyone had a different thought reaction. My reaction was to question the implied premises and react to that. I arrived at a conclusion that surprised me, because the topic involves some long standing questions that humans have been thinking about for a long time. However, it does not seem that we have arrived at any new answers.

I thought that at the beginning you made an error in your definition of a project. You gave only three points and I think you left out the main reason for going to the moon. Probably because this is the most difficult to pin down. Was it to do the impossible, or because it had not been done before, or to prove our country was better than another country, or to spend money to stimulate the economy? I refer to this as the Aristotelian Final Cause. My idea in my essay was to say we need to focus on this Final Cause, the reason or the cause for the sake of, that humans act with goals and intentions.

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Joe Fisher replied on Feb. 15, 2017 @ 17:05 GMT
Dear Dr. Ricker III,

All of the essays except one, published so far in the contest have failed to answer the question of why humanly contrived complex mathematical concepts fail to explain the reality of the visible Universe. The real Universe must consist only of one unified visible infinite physical surface occurring in one infinite dimension, that am always illuminated by infinite non-surface light. Perhaps the sooner you accept this irrefutable fact, the better off you will be.

Joe Fisher, Realist

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Author Pawel Konzal replied on Feb. 20, 2017 @ 21:40 GMT
Dear Harry Hamlin Ricker III,

First of all, thank you for your very kind words. I am glad you liked my essay and found it interesting.

Regarding your comment on omission I made at the introductory part of essay - it was a consciously made exclusion. While I do believe the question concerning 'Final Cause' is an important one, I think that it is irrelevant in this context or at least in the frame I set in my piece. Let me briefly explain why.

1) I focused on our capacity to distinguish between systems with ASOG (ability to set original goals) and those without - regardless of their motivations.

2) Most importantly we are very often (always?) not aware about real motives of our own actions, let alone motives of actions of others. How many times we think we do something for one reason, to discover (upon a deeper reflection) that we have done it actually for a different reason? We rationalize, we explain to ourselves different things. I do not want to go too deep into psychoanalysis here, but there is a limit to introspection.

3) There are multiple motives for our actions - rarely if ever there is only ONE / FINAL CAUSE. If you think about 'putting a man on a moon' - there were:

- multiple parties involved (USA and USSR),

- in each of them multiple people involved,

- each of them with multiple motives.

Hard to disentangle this. However, regardless of the motives and causes - a man was put on a moon. And this was a novel idea for which a plan was devised and executed. The way in which I interpreted the essay's topic focuses on exactly that question: is a system able or not to set such kind of novel goals. Nevertheless, you are right in saying that multiple potential interpretations of the essay's topic exist and one might understand it also in a way in which a moral question 'WHY' becomes relevant.

Once again, thank you for your time and input.

Kind regards,

Pawel Konzal

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Satyavarapu Naga Parameswara Gupta wrote on Feb. 16, 2017 @ 23:00 GMT
Dear Pawel Konzal,

Thank you for giving us a very nice and well informative essay on capabilities of Artificial / Machine Intelligence, written in a simple language… Good !

I am quoting your words just for further discussions sir…

1….. “While the latter two phases seem to be within reach of artificial (i.e. non-human) systems, the ability to set original1 goals (ASOG) is a challenge of an entirely different magnitude and importance at the same time. ”

…………….. I request you to please have a look at my essay also, where apparently non life forms like Galaxies can set goals for further movement.

2. … You mean to say a machine system like robot or a Turing machine can not set its own goals. No , it can set its own goals, it depends on the programmer who develops software for the machine. Why we humans set our goals, It depends on requirements. Say food, property, relaxation etc.

Lets take a simple robot. Take the house cleaning robots, for example. It cleans the floor, goes under tables and chairs, and goes to all nooks and corners once. But when its battery level goes down, it senses its condition and goes to the place where its charging station located and recharges itself. It can be programmed to do the cleaning on every day. So it is independent of human intervention.

So lets come to the case of humans, there is a set of programming exists in us also, at three levels. 1. Heart and lungs level, 2. Immediate response level , and 3. Our requirements like food and travel level .

What do you say….?

Best Regards


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Author Pawel Konzal replied on Feb. 20, 2017 @ 21:48 GMT
Dear SNP Gupta,

Thank you for your comment.

I defined (on page 1) original goal as synonymous to novel, ingenious. Further, on page 2, I give a more precise definition of the 'originality' when saying that:


"The objectives are novel and were unknown and unthought-of before being named verbally or in a written form by a system (originality). I purposefully underline here the originality feature of goals which are being set. Therefore, we are not talking here of a set of already determined or defined goals from which a system could choose (cure cancer; go to Mars; eradicate hunger) but of goals which are undreamed-of-yet."

[end of quote]

Therefore, the examples you list (when referring to a cleaning robot) do not fulfill the condition of originality as set above. I hope that answers your question.

I will read your essay tomorrow, thank you once again for your time.

Kind regards,

Pawel Konzal

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Willy K wrote on Mar. 12, 2017 @ 05:29 GMT
Hello Konzal

ASOG coupled with the 2IA/IA distinction is a very interesting proposal for separating systems that are intelligent. But later you go on to say, “This is obviously a system centric approach – potentially as invalid as anthropocentric approach so prevalent in history until now.” I think if your approach is system centric, mine is even more so. But on reflection, that is an unavoidable occupational hazard when it comes to measuring intelligence since all AIs are bound to be some sort of ‘system’.

I suggest measuring intelligence by looking at the model that is running the AI system, by checking whether it has a capacity to nurture its root elements. However, I really would not want to have an AI system that is also looking to enhance its overall ability to survive, as that is likely to cause conflict with humans.

Great to see that you also mentioned that original ideas are not quotes. That would be my take also. In my essay, all original ideas are presented as quotes from other people. My only contribution is arranging the quotes into a sequential model that is viable.

Regards Willy

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Peter Jackson wrote on Apr. 6, 2017 @ 12:46 GMT

Nicely written and argued essay and hypothesis, but I have questions.

Have you found anything passing the test yet?

I suggest a mechanism that may go some way.; If a brain is given a 'choice', from ANY internal or external sensory input, it may make a decision (ever eat or not eat, or berry or potato, or something of it's 'own volition' from memory). The memory bank allows 'scenario's to be run, so giving feedback (biochemical release etc) which cause the neural networks 'switches' to be thrown (;Mmmm ..berry smells & tastes nice). Then other 'next strata down' decisions follow on, serving and 'looping back' again to the main one. (shall I climb that tree? go to the shops? which shop? etc.) The first decision has become what we call an 'Aim'.

When you say 'of own volition' - do not even humans have continual sensory inputs in the same way of course, and involuntary brain activity!


Marking (up) now. Do take a look and comment on mine.

Very best


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