Seán Mon­crieff

The dark side of Ar­ti­fi­cial In­tel­li­gence is Dooms­day scary

The Irish Times Magazine - - INSIDE -

God be with the days when AI meant a fella com­ing to get the cows preg­nant. Now it’s about the pos­si­ble ex­tinc­tion of the hu­man race. Ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence is ev­ery­where. It’s in banks, in cam­eras on the street. All over your so­cial me­dia. It can make a med­i­cal di­ag­no­sis or com­pose mu­sic or play chess. If ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence was a TV char­ac­ter it would be a mix of Shel­don from The Big Bang The­ory and a hand­some doc­tor from Grey’s Anatomy.

New York City Coun­cil is cur­rently go­ing through a process to es­tab­lish ex­actly how many al­go­rithms are in­volved in the gov­er­nance of the city: be­cause they don’t know how many there are. They do know that it’s in­volved in the al­lo­ca­tion of po­lice of­fi­cers, food stamps and public hous­ing. In other parts of the United States, po­lice de­part­ments have com­mis­sioned data com­pa­nies to come up with ways of pre­dict­ing crime. Yes, like the Tom Cruise film.

Yet this isn’t the big one: all the above are nar­row ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gences. They have a spe­cific set of func­tions and are only as good or as bad as the peo­ple who pro­grammed them. ( Though they can learn. Google’s Trans­late tool made up its own lan­guage through which it trans­lates the lan­guages us flesh­bots speak.)

What sci­en­tists, philoso­phers, politi­cians and any­one with a healthy in­ter­est in dooms­day re­ally worry about is ar­ti­fi­cial gen­eral in­tel­li­gence: a com­puter that thinks for it­self.

This is not a sci­ence fic­tion fan­tasy. The over­whelm­ing sci­en­tific con­sen­sus is that the spooky- sound­ing sin­gu­lar­ity will oc­cur this cen­tury, pos­si­bly around 2050.

It’s where tech­nol­ogy and phi­los­o­phy crash into each other, be­cause a su­per- in­tel­li­gent AI will be able to build an even more in­tel­li­gent AI, and so on and so on – end­ing up with an ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence that has God- like pow­ers. It’ll be able to wipe out all dis­ease and end cli­mate change, bring about world peace and pro­duce a new, even bet­ter series of The So­pra- nos. A group in Sil­i­con Val­ley has al­ready es­tab­lished a re­li­gion in ad­vance of its ar­rival. Some pro­pose that we should ask the AI what we want, be­cause it will know bet­ter. It will be able to res­ur­rect dead peo­ple or cre­ate Ma­trix- like re­al­i­ties for hu­mans that we won’t be able to dis­tin­guish from the real thing.

It may even have done so al­ready. There’s a thought ex­er­cise called Roko’s Basilisk, which is head- melt­ingly com­plex, but part of it is that we only think AI has not emerged yet. The AI has in fact cre­ated a pre- AI re­al­ity to test how hu­mans will re­act to the pos­si­bil­ity of AI. If you’re not keen, then the Basilisk won’t be too pleased with you, as you’re in favour of deny­ing it ex­is­tence.

This would be a par­tic­u­larly needy su­per- in­tel­li­gence, but it’s strik­ing how many of the world’s lead­ing sci­en­tific thinkers – Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Tim Bern­ers- Lee and the late Stephen Hawk­ing – all worry that an AI will re­gard us as an­noy­ing bugs.

There’s an­other the­ory that the rea­son why we haven’t found life on other plan­ets is that they al­ready cre­ated AI: and the AI wiped them out.

There are some op­ti­mists, of course, but it’s strik­ing how the dark pre­dic­tions de­scribe an en­tity like the pre- Chris­tian or Old Tes­ta­ment Gods. The AI is driven by cold logic, yet can still act in ap­par­ently petty and jeal­ous ways. It’s a re­flec­tion of the worst im­pulses in hu­man­ity, but one that has come about as a re­sult of what’s most im­pres­sive about us: our cre­ativ­ity. If this hap­pens, we’ll have made a God – and pre­sum­ably, wiped out be­lief in the old lo- tech de­ity. Yet we’ll fear it. Just the way we fear our­selves.

There’s an­other the­ory that the rea­son why we haven’t found life on other plan­ets is that they al­ready cre­ated AI: and the AI wiped them out

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