John Carmack interview about AGI

Dallas Innovates has a fascinating interview with John Carmack of Id Software fame, who left Meta/Oculus recently so that he could focus on artificial general intelligence. It’s worth reading, but here’s a small excerpt:

Inside his multimillion-dollar manse on Highland Park’s Beverly Drive, Carmack, 52, is working to achieve AGI through his startup Keen Technologies, which raised $20 million in a financing round in August from investors including Austin-based Capital Factory.

This is the “fourth major phase” of his career, Carmack says, following stints in computers and pioneering video games with Mesquite’s id Software (founded in 1991), suborbital space rocketry at Mesquite-based Armadillo Aerospace (2000-2013), and virtual reality with Oculus VR, which Facebook (now Meta) acquired for $2 billion in 2014. Carmack stepped away from Oculus’ CTO role in late 2019 to become consulting CTO for the VR venture, proclaiming his intention to focus on AGI. He left Meta in December to concentrate full-time on Keen.

We sat down with the tech icon during a rare break in his work to conduct the following exclusive interview—a frank conversation that took Dallas Innovates weeks to arrange. The Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

What sort of work are you doing now to ‘solve’ artificial general intelligence, John, and why are you taking your particular approach?

I sit here at my computer all the time, thinking up concepts, documenting them, making theories, testing them. That’s the work right now, as nobody really knows the full path all the way to where we want to go. But I think I’ve got as good a shot at it as anyone, for a number of reasons.

Some people have raised billions of dollars to pursue this. And while that’s interesting in some ways, and there are signs that extremely powerful things are possible right now in the narrow machine-learning stuff, it’s not clear that those are the necessary steps to get all the way to artificial general intelligence. For companies that are happy to do that, it’s not a bad bet, because there are plenty of off-ramps where there are valuable things, even if you don’t get all the way. There’s still stuff that’s going to change the world, like the narrow AI. 

But it’s a worry that if you just take the first off-ramp and say, ‘Hey, there’s a billion-dollar off-ramp right here’—where we know we can just go take what we understand and revolutionize various industries. That becomes a very tempting thing to do, but it distracts everyone from looking further ahead and focusing on the big far distance stuff. So, I’m in a position where I can be really blunt about what I’m doing, and that is: zero near-term business opportunities.

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