Elon has a phobia about Artificial Intelligence, but I’m not sure it’s warranted. Neither are Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg.
Today we’re going to explore Elon’s fear of AI wiping out the human race and why many others are less worried. To understand why Elon is so fearful of AI, we first need to know what AI is. In computers, Artificial Intelligence is the field of work that involves creating programs that can mimic human intelligence such as playing chess and solving algebra problems.
While today we think of these examples as obvious tasks that a computer can perform with exceedingly good skill, when the field of AI research started at Dartmouth College in 1956, these were astonishing feats. Some of the founders at this time were so excited about the field of AI that they proclaimed “machines will be capable, within twenty years, of doing any work a man can do”
That was in the early 60’s, not exactly the decade we think of when it comes to the computer revolution. In fact computers were barely a thing back then and mostly focused on processing complex equations which awesomely led to the calculus needed to later in the decade put a man on the moon. Think about that for a second…in this era, a 5MB hard drive, barely enough to hold a couple of photos by today’s standards, had to be hauled onto a freight container and lifted by heavy machinery. And today, I have 64GB in a piece of plastic the size of my fingernail. That’s nearly a 13,000x improvement in about 60 years.
So was this the first time we as humans used AI to help us achieve something?
By today’s standards many would say no, but if you zoom out a bit, you could argue that the computers used in the 60’s were merely imitating human intelligence, just faster and more accurately.
So if we think of Artificial Intelligence as simulating human intelligence, why is it such a hot topic lately with all of our leaders weighing in?
Well, we’ve come a long way since the 60’s, and along the way, we invented the Internet. This was the moment when a lot of those early science fiction visions of a world where the machines took over started to become a bit more real. With the internet, computer systems, and machinery could be controlled remotely. As well, data could be transferred leading towards significant innovations in Artificial Intelligence with the practice of Machine Learning.
The idea that we could teach a computer how to learn on its own, given a little instruction, has lead to many of the recent advancements fueling the AI hype cycle. No longer just an advanced calculator, AI systems are beating people at jeopardy, translating hundreds of languages instantly, and soon will be able to get us home safe after a night out with friends. So far what I’ve described is a class of AI called Narrow Intelligence, or Weak AI.
Artificial Narrow Intelligence is when the system is focused on a specific task. All of the examples we’ve seen so far fall into this category, although IBM’s Watson is pushing the boundary a bit with its ability to understand a multitude of topics. So far so good, nothing to be afraid of, and plenty to be excited about. So why is Elon so worried?
It has to do with the next level of AI, Artificial General Intelligence. This is where AI systems will be able to reason, plan, understand complex ideas, and find solutions for problems quickly by learning from experience. This is where things can get a bit scary. If you’ve seen the SciFi movie Ex Machina you’ll remember Ava, a human-like android that is generally intelligent. She was able to trick her guest into helping her escape. And if that wasn’t enough, the real threat to our existence is the highest level, Artificial Super Intelligence.
Leading AI thinker Nick Bostrom defines Artificial Super Intelligence as “an intellect that is much smarter than the best human brains in practically every field, including scientific creativity, general wisdom, and social skills.” This is why Elon and others such as Stephen Hawking and Ray Kurzweil are so concerned.
When we as humans create something this intelligent, we will no longer be able to control it and it could quickly run wild, killing us all. And once we lose control of a system like this, we won’t even know how to stop it. Also if we assume it has good intentions, the needs it has will differ significantly from our own likely resulting in a conflict we can’t win.
So yeah, it could happen, and we should all be a little worried. But honestly at the rate, it’s pretty far off before we could even imagine creating an Artificially Super Intelligent System, I mean…Siri can’t play songs from Spotify, so we have a long way to go.
In the meantime, the battle between Elon, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and our other tech leaders will wage on, hopefully bringing some sense to the discussion, just not super intelligent self-aware type, not yet anyway.