Robots gone wild: Scientists have duty to protect mankind from artificial intelligence

By Robert Bridge
3 Feb, 2018

The clock is ticking for the world of science to take the necessary steps to protect mankind from the deleterious effects of artificial intelligence, which is increasing by leaps and bounds.

As someone who is old enough to remember a world without the internet and smartphones, I am also young enough to wonder where the human race is heading as computers ‘evolve’ into the unchartered territory of artificial intelligence (AI).

For example, a recent report by AP shows that in an increasing number of local and state courtrooms around America, “judges are now guided by computer algorithms before ruling whether criminal defendants can return to everyday life, or remain locked up awaiting trial.”

The report went to say that “AI is reshaping, if not eliminating, some of judges’ most basic tasks — many of which can still have enormous consequences for the people involved.”

The idea of computers increasingly deciding our fate brings to mind a slew of sci-fi Hollywood productions that invariably depicts the future as a dark, sinister and altogether inhospitable place. Tech-noir box office hits, like Blade Runner (1982), The Terminator (1984), Brazil (1985) and The Matrix (1999) have reinforced the singular message: Where we are now is a far better place than where we are heading.

Despite such grave predictions from the entertainment industry, as well as the great science fiction writers, like George Orwell and Aldous Huxley, mankind has willingly saddled the wild beast known as technology and is prepared to ride it where it would lead us. And therein, I believe, lays the tragedy: Our belief that technology is completely beyond our ability to control. Adhering to such a stance could be the cause for our ultimate downfall.

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In December, Professor Stephen Hawking spoke about the rise of artificial intelligence in an interview with Wired magazine. “I fear that AI may replace humans altogether… If people design computer viruses, someone will design AI that improves and replicates itself,” the acclaimed physicist warned.

Hawking then went on to utter a breathtaking prediction: “This will be a new form of life that outperforms humans.”

Let that sink in for a moment. Man-made artificial intelligence will be a “new form of life that outperforms humans.” Thus, man will soon be able to boast that he has become both Creator and Destroyer, the Alpha and Omega, just like the old-fashioned God of the Bible, albeit a new and improved version. A bit like genetically modified food, I guess you could say, where technicians enter the scene to ‘perfect’ what Nature has already provided in abundance.

Are there any sinners in this brave new robotic world? As far as I can tell, just those pesky neo-Luddites who would point out the tremendous risks that this “new form of life” entails for real life on earth, as well as the rebellious hackers out there who will be hunted down, Matrix-style, inside the grid system of this virtual nightmare.

Despite such dire warnings, however, so many people remain utterly complacent over the fact that this AI evolution will, as Hawking put it, “outperform humans.” As if all that matters in life is raw performance.

This is not breaking news. The writing was already on the wall in 1997, when the Russian chess grandmaster, Garry Kasparov, lost his very first chess match to IBM’s computer ‘Deep Blue.’ At the time of this match over 20 years ago, the world of computer technology was still in its relative infancy. Twenty years ago may not seem like much time, until we consider Moore’s Law, which states that the doubling of computer processing speed occurs every 18 months, an exponential rate of transformation that no mortal human can hope to keep pace with.

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Yet not only are humans welcoming the arrival of robots armed with awe-inspiring artificial intelligence, strength and agility, they are even increasingly willing to engage in sexual relations with them.

That step towards the very brink of madness testifies to the disintegration of society and social relations that have already suffered a major blow ever since the dawn of so-called ‘social media;’ which is actually anti-social at its core, according to the very people who introduced it.

Chamath Palihapitiya, former vice-president for user growth at Facebook before leaving in 2011, said in a presentation at the Stanford Business School: “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works. No civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth.”

At the same time, robots and artificial intelligence are revolutionizing everything – from the way we do our shopping to how modern wars are being fought.  The example at the top of the article of judges relying on AI to determine the fate of criminals in their courtrooms highlights one of the great downsides of this revolution in artificial intelligence – the veritable earthquake that is going to occur in a vast number of professions. When humans suddenly awake to the reality that they are in competition for a job against a machine that never gets sick, never needs a vacation, never needs a paycheck, while performing the job far better than the frail human, then it doesn’t require much imagination to see where we are heading on the jobs front.

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Thus, it would be a very big mistake to believe that we are helpless in the face of this AI revolution, which seems to be the regular message from the tech industry. The best way to respond to the threat of super-smart, super-strong robots displacing humans in every field – from the job market to the battlefield – is for scientists and engineers to take a stand and ensure humans are not left behind in the dust.

Yet that is exactly what is not happening.

According to a report in The Financial Times, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is launching an ambitious program “to understand human intelligence and apply that knowledge to develop intelligent machines.”

Dubbed ‘MIT IQ’, the program is determined to answer two bold questions: “How does human intelligence work in engineering terms? And how can we use that deep grasp of human intelligence to build wiser and more useful machines?”

I think the more pertinent question would be: How can we build wiser humans in the face of these potentially devastating new technologies that threaten to disrupt every aspect of our lives?

There is still time to achieve that goal, but the technological clock is ticking – exponentially.

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