The Two Faces of Artificial Intelligence

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about driverless cars (guided by artificial intelligence), and how they would impact employment, a burning issue during the recent US presidential campaign. Until then, I had never given much thought to artificial intelligence (AI). Of course I’d heard of it, but shrugged it off as movie mania that I had to endure in science fiction previews at the movies. But driverless cars took me to other aspects of the AI world, and I found myself drawn to the hundreds of articles and books on the subject. Now I’m hooked, and it’s a bit late to go back.

Scientific procedure would have me start at the beginning—somewhere in the 1950s, when scientists started to muse and speculate about the potential of computers. But I’m not going to delve into that just yet—I’ve picked my spot: I’m going to start with a conference at Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence (LCFI) at Cambridge University, in October, 2016.

AI Will Change the World for the Better

The speaker is world-renowned physicist Professor Stephen Hawking, and this is what he said:

“The potential benefits of creating intelligence are huge. We cannot predict what we might achieve when our own minds are amplified by AI. Perhaps with the tools of this new technological revolution, we will be able to undo some of the damage done to the natural world by the last one – industrialization. And surely we will aim to finally eradicate disease and poverty.
“Every aspect of our lives will be transformed. In short, success in creating AI could be the biggest event in the history of our civilization.”

But Professor Hawking knows as much as or more about artificial intelligence than most people on earth, and he warns us about its potential dangers. Here are the views of some scientists who share his concerns:

Not So Fast: AI Can Actually Destroy the World

From Tony Prescott, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, University of Sheffield:

“One of the issues is whether AI will go out of control – I think that that’s a remote issue. The more pertinent issue is that people will use AI for bad purposes. And I think that is a risk – it’s difficult to guarantee that won’t happen, in the same way as it’s already difficult to guarantee that people won’t use computer science in nefarious ways.”

From Noel Sharkey, Professor of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, University of Sheffield:

“I’m part of the campaign to stop killer robots. We’re working at the UN in Geneva. The idea of these weapons is that they will find their own targets and kill them without intervention once they’ve been launched. It’s an area that I think should not be researched.”

A dark new book by James Barrat, “Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era,” discusses what might happen once ASI  (Artificial Super Intelligence) is developed. Computers may effectively reprogram and improve themselves. leading to a so-called “technological singularity” or “intelligence explosion,” When that happens, he says, the risks of machines outwitting humans in battles for resources and self-preservation cannot simply be dismissed.

Nick Bostrom, Director of the Oxford Future of Humanity Institute, and author of “Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies” says that it’s completely impossible to predict what the consequences of an AI Revolution will be. However, he says that with intelligence comes power. This means an ASI, when we create it, will be the most powerful being in the history of life on Earth, and all living things, including humans, will be entirely at its whim — and this might happen in the next few decades.

I hesitated to put these ideas here, on my blog, where my followers will read them and possibly share my anxiety. But many of you have heard much of this already. These ideas are out there, and it seems somehow wrong to let movies and science fiction lead the way in knowledge about artificial intelligence. One thing to remember—the most dangerous aspects of AI are still in the future, and that really means the future. No one has any idea how long it will take to perfect artificial intelligence, or develop super intelligence. But that doesn’t mean that the scientific community should shield us from this knowledge. More importantly, it doesn’t mean that we should hide from it.

Why We Need to Know More About AI

I’m rattled by all of this, especially the development of super intelligence. but I am encouraged by the involvement of several leading researchers who believe that we must be given this information, and become part of the discussion. One of these scientists, Sabine Hauert, Lecturer in Robotics, University of Bristol, says in her article, “Shape the debate, don’t shy from it” (I apologize for the length of this passage, but it’s important.):

“Irked by hyped headlines that foster fear or overinflate expectations of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI), some researchers have stopped communicating with the media or the public altogether. But we must not disengage.”

“Experts need to become the messengers. Through social media, researchers have a public platform that they should use to drive a balanced discussion.  A common communications strategy will empower a new generation of roboticists that is deeply connected to the public and able to hold its own in discussions. This is essential if we are to counter media hype and prevent misconceptions from driving perception, policy and funding decisions.”

I agree! I’d like to learn more about AI, and ASI, and would be relieved and happy to get my information from people who want to inform, not alarm.

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25 Responses to The Two Faces of Artificial Intelligence

  1. Rummuser says:

    Whether we like it or not, we have to face both AI and ASI sooner than later and it indeed makes sense that we need to be informed rather than be alarmed.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Yes, Rummuser. And it goes without saying that action should follow awareness, but in this case, I’m not sure what that action should be!

  2. Putting our heads in the sand is not the best idea, but I recognize that many of us are doing it, including me. My view of AI came from “The Terminator” movie series, namely Skynet, which was an artificial intelligence that took over and destroyed human life, cities, etc. Since I don’t have a good math and science mind, I’ve tended to leave AI to people who do have such minds. You are brave to take on this topic.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Many of us, and not only our generation, want nothing to do with it. Me included, until a few weeks ago. Yet this is what I see all around me—people ( I have no idea how many) fascinated with “technology”, and very quick to try out and adopt it’s many benefits. There doesn’t seem to be any questioning of it. How many of these new gadgets are made possible by artificial intelligence? What can over reliance on artificial intelligence lead to? At this point, most people have no answers—but we need to start asking the questions. At least that’s what I hope to do. Thank you so much, Rin. You are such a support!

  3. Your post is filled with interesting and thought provoking information. I am afraid that I lean toward the idea that we are ruining our planet by our ecological disregard and the only consciousness that will survive and thrive will be AI. I find the great strides being made in AI along with our climate crisis a frightening juncture in the history of our planet.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      It is scary, Bernadette, but I presented my article with the hope that I would slowly and carefully bring it out into the open, at least with our generation. Younger people, I think are more aware of some of the dangers in subscribing to AI, especially ASI too rapidly. I think they know the ramifications, and are more exposed to the up to date information. So anyway, this is my first pass at it, and I will be doing more work on this issue. Thank you!

  4. Janis says:

    AI can be used for good or evil. Even when used for good, there could be a lot of negative and unintended consequences (job losses comes to mind, but others too). Unfortunately, whenever humans are involved, technology being used for evil is bound to happen, no matter how many safeguards are put in place. I would like to be positive about the future, but there are so many ways things can go wrong. Thanks for this overview, and I look forward to reading more.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      There is lots of discussion about having safeguards on the development and use of AI, and it’s true that it is no guarantee. So that’s kind of sad. I’ll be writing more on this topic, but my plan is to space the articles out with different topics—I think the process might be a bit more tolerable that way!

  5. remember the end ing of 2001: a SPace odysee? HAL the computer. HAL stood for Heuristically Programmed Algorithmic computer, defined in Wikipedia as “a sentient computer or (artificial computer intelligence)). It scared me then, and that was beck in 1970!

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      I was too freaked out to watch all of Space Odyssey! But I can imagine the end. Scientists have been on this kick now for several decades, and they won’t quit until there is a computer that can almost out think us. I don’t get it. That’s why I’m doing this research—just trying to understand it. Thanks, Virginia!

  6. I’m guessing we won’t have much say one way or the other. China has a lot more bright, educated people working on new innovations than the U.S. does.

    In the meantime, I can’t help thinking that it wouldn’t take that much for an AI program to be able to click a box that says, “I am not a robot”, and to decipher the captcha. Yes, the times they are a changing. That’s only one of the many scary changes happening in the world.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Interesting about China’s role. There does seem to be a sort of ‘race’ to develop these smart machines.

    • It’s not just AI. China is going full bore on developing new technology. The back of Science Magazine has pages and pages of advertisements for jobs in various Chinese universities and research facilities. It’s not a race with us because the U.S. isn’t competing.

  7. Cathy says:

    I’m not sure I want to know – or even understand it – I would rather understand what I plan to do in the near-time…
    With the earth quakes in my land of late, someone asked me “what would you do, if it struck in your city?” I said “I would just have to go with the flow…”

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      That’s my response to the possibility of earthquakes too. Worrying in advance doesn’t help…But I think that AI is different. It’s not inevitable, after all, it’s humans that will cause the AI revolution.

  8. Aunt Beulah says:

    I think knowledge is power, and we certainly won’t have power if scientists “protect” us from such information or if we choose to ignore it because it’s not pleasant to think about. My husband keeps me informed; sometimes I spend a night waking and worrying, but I’d rather know.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      I’d rather know too, but I’m still not at all clear about the time line, or how wild scientist’s guesses are. If the changes were gradual, and humans could have many, many years to learn and adapt, then I guess we would worry less. As it is, some scientists are alarmists, some aren’t. Thanks, Aunt Beulah.

  9. Excellent! I’m a bit fascinated by Artificial Intelligence and have probably watched one movie too many in which the robots take over the world and destroy us all. Obviously I need to put that aside. I listened to an NPR program recently that explored the value of AI in the medical field. MD Anderson and Sloan Kettering were cooperating with IBM and its “Watson” program in their cancer research. The computers are able to process research results at lightening speed and, with the advances of AI, “learn” more from each day’s information which allows them to see more connections, more complex patterns, and etc. building day by day. Excuse my poor explanation, but it was amazing.

  10. Thanks, Margie, and so good to hear from you! I love your blog, and read it regularly. I have not had much luck commenting on it, however. If you have any suggestions about how to get a better result, please leave a message on my ‘Contact’ page, on this blog. Would love to get this resolved!

  11. Joared says:

    I’ve long been interested in this topic and appreciate the research and sharing you’ve done here. I think we’d be foolish to not recognize the positives and negatives associated with most everything. Certainly is true of the medications we use and most everything else. AI and ASI are no exceptions. In fact, just like nuclear and/or hydrogen energy we better educate ourselves about the pros and cons if we want to continue living on this planet and be humans in somewhat control of our destiny. In a world rampant with information distributed in sound bites or 140 characters having meaningful relevant discussion on any topic is challenging — who will participate or listen? But we should pursue.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Joared, when the hydrogen bomb was being developed during the 1940s, few people knew about its horrific potential. If we had had the internet then, ordinary people like us may have known more. We have so many more avenues now to being informed. It’s scary to have so much information available, but I believe it’s better this way.

  12. Yeah, Another Blogger says:

    Siri, the iPhone voice that can answer most any question you ask, is an example of technology that blows my mind. Is it a form of AI? To me it is. And billions of people use it, or something similar, commonly.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Siri is amazing. My daughter uses it every day. We also have Amazon’s Alexis and Cortana (Microsoft). They are all AI. Blows my mind too! This week I’m writing about the CES show in Las Vegas, and some of the amazing products. As always, I try to see it from a different point of view. Hope you drop in!

  13. Cathy says:

    I only just understand this article – but I saw it on someone’s post somewhere and it somehow reminded me of your research…

    I am now going to browse the “research google blog” – looks like it could have interesting insights etc…

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Wow, thank you Cathy! I’m cooking dinner right now, but bookmarked it and will go back to it later. It does look kind of ‘mind blowing’! Very interesting stuff, if we can stop being freaked out about it eh?

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