John Carmack—co-creator of Doom, literal rocket scientist, and jujitsu expert—is leaving his position as chief technology officer at Facebook's virtual reality company Oculus so he can work on artificial general intelligence (AGI) at home with his son.
“Starting this week, I’m moving to a ‘Consulting CTO’ position with Oculus,” Carmack said in an announcement on Facebook. “I will still have a voice in the development work, but it will only be consuming a modest slice of my time.”
Unlike almost any instance where you've seen the term "artificial intelligence" used in recent years, AGI is an artificial intelligence that thinks, and possibly feels, like a human. It’s the kind of AI in dystopian movie franchises like The Matrix and Terminator, and not only are we not even close to creating such an AI, it is entirely unclear if it’s even possible.
Carmack says he thinks he can probably handle it. “I think it is possible, enormously valuable, and that I have a non-negligible chance of making a difference there, so...I should be working on it,” he said.
Carmack is a mythical figure in the history of video games, largely thanks to his groundbreaking technical work on Doom, which was dramatically told in David Kushner's Masters of Doom book, soon to become a TV show. Carmack kept pushing the games industry forward with his work on Quake, and of course Oculus, which was acquired by Facebook for $2 billion in 2014. Carmack is very smart, and an industry-defining figure in the field of computer graphics, but that doesn't mean he can successfully tackle one of the scariest, and most complicated computer science challenges in history.
Even if he fails at creating a human-level artificial intelligence, Carmack thinks it’ll be a rewarding problem to tackle.
“When I think back over everything I have done across games, aerospace, and VR, I have always felt that I had at least a vague ‘line of sight’ to the solutions, even if they were unconventional or unproven,” he said. “I have sometimes wondered how I would fare with a problem where the solution really isn’t in sight. I decided that I should give it a try before I get too old.”
Carmack is going to tackle the problem at home with the help of us son. “For the time being at least, I am going to be going about it ‘Victorian Gentleman Scientist’ style,” he said. “Runner up for next project was cost effective nuclear fission reactors, which wouldn’t have been as suitable for that style of work.”