AI computers will be our ‘teammates’ not weapons

Intelligent computers should be considered our teammates rather than a threat to the human race, one of the world’s most prominent artificial intelligence (AI) experts has claimed, ahead of his appearance at UCC next weekend.

“After decades of pundits and philosophers arguing that artificial intelligence is provably impossible, suddenly that argument has been replaced with the assertion that not only is it possible but that superhuman artificial intelligence is so inevitable that it is the greatest danger ever faced by the human race.

“In only about a decade, the conversation has shifted from ‘you can’t do it’ to ‘you shouldn’t do it’,” said Ken Ford, director and chief executive of the Florida-based Institute for Human and Machine Cognition.

Mr Ford said some futurist thinkers worried that artificial intelligence systems would soon take over our planet and treat us like domestic pets or worse.

Stephen Hawking, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak were among more than 1,000 artificial intelligence experts to sign an open letter published last month by the Future of Life Institute, warning that “autonomous weapons” beyond meaningful human control should be banned.

“Unlike nuclear weapons, they require no costly or hard-to-obtain raw materials, so they will become ubiquitous and cheap for all significant military powers to mass produce. It will only be a matter of time until they appear on the black market and in the hands of terrorists, dictators wishing to better control their populace, warlords wishing to perpetrate ethnic cleansing, etc,” the letter reads.

Mr Ford said: “Consider the fictional robot Hal in Arthur C Clarke’s 2001 Space Odyssey. Hal’s design re?ects an old and misguided ambition of artificial intelligence, that is, to create an arti?cial human.

“However, simpler more reliable and cost-effective methods exist for creating humans. Rather than intelligent computers becoming our rivals or doing our thinking for us, they will (and have already) become our amplifiers and teammates.”

Mr Ford will discuss his views on the open letter in more depth and present videos of the institute’s work at UCC’s George Boole bicentenary celebration next Saturday.

The institute’s semi- autonomous, 1.97m robot, nicknamed Running Man, recently was second in a €3m global robotics competition in California, by driving a car, walking over debris, cutting a hole in a wall, turning a valve for a fire hose, and performing other tasks.

Unlike some of the other robots, which moved on wheels or four legs, the institute’s machine had to balance and walk on two legs.

Meanwhile, to say artificial intelligence will start doing what it wants for its own purposes is like saying a calculator will start making its own calculations, says Oren Etzioni, chief of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, who will speak at the conference via Skype.

Artificial intelligence computers are tools to perform tasks too difficult or expensive for us to do on our own, such as analysing large data sets, or keeping up to date on medical research, he believes.

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