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Saturday, December 13, 2014

Should We Fear Our Machine Overlords?


This year has brought renewed optimism about the prospects for strong artificial intelligence and new expressions of fear about its dangers. And some prominent people have expressed optimism and fear simultaneously. Stephen Hawking argues that AI is progressing rapidly, possibly leading to the biggest event in human history– the creation of  general machine intelligence that exceeds that of humans. Hawking also argues that creating more intelligent machines might also be the last such event because they will takeover.  Elon Musk, the entrepreneurial creator of Tesla and Space X, sees strong AI as a demon that we will unleash on humanity.
One might dismiss these concerns as the latest manifestation of a fear that goes back to the Romantic Era. It was first represented by Frankenstein’s monster, who symbolized the idea that “all scientific progress is really a disguised form of destruction.” But Hawking and Musk are serious people to whom attention must be paid.
On balance, I think the threat posed by autonomous machine intelligence is overblown.  A basic error in such thinking is the tendency to anthropomorphize AI. Humans, like other animals, are genetically programmed in many instances to regard their welfare (and that of their relatives) as more important than the welfare of any other living thing. But this motivation is rooted in evolution: those animals that put their own welfare first were more likely to succeed in distributing their genes to subsequent generations. Artificial intelligence is not  necessarily the direct product of biological evolution, nor of any process resembling it...

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