Artificial Stupidity?

Mark Bishop has an interesting article up called The Danger of Artificial Stupidity that looks at some interesting questions about how dangerous A.I. might be and what the real danger might be after all.

It is not often that you are obliged to proclaim a much-loved international genius wrong, but in the alarming prediction made recently regarding Artificial Intelligence and the future of humankind, I believe Professor Stephen Hawking is. Well to be precise, being a theoretical physicist — in an echo of Schrödinger’s cat, famously both dead and alive at the same time — I believe the Professor is both wrong and right at the same time.

Wrong because there are strong grounds for believing that computers will never be able to replicate all human cognitive faculties and right because even such emasculated machines may still pose a threat to humanity’s future existence; an existential threat, so to speak.

In an interview on December 2, 2014 Rory Cellan-Jones asked how far engineers had come along the path towards creating artificial intelligence, and slightly worryingly Professor Hawking, replied “Once humans develop artificial intelligence it would take off on its own and redesign itself at an ever increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.”

Although grabbing headlines, such predictions are not new in the world of science and science fiction; indeed my old boss at the University of Reading, Professor Kevin Warwick, made a very similar prediction back in 1997 in his book “March of the Machines.” In that book Kevin observed that even in 1997 there were already robots with the “brain power of an insect”; soon, he predicted, there would be robots with the brain power of a cat, and soon after that there would be machines as intelligent as humans. When this happens, Warwick claimed, the science fiction nightmare of a “Terminator” machine could quickly become reality, because these robots will rapidly become more intelligent than and superior in their practical skills to the humans that designed and constructed them.

The notion of humankind subjugated by evil machines is based on the ideology that all aspects of human mentality will eventually be instantiated by an artificial intelligence program running on a suitable computer, a so-called “Strong AI” [1]. Of course if this is possible, accelerating progress in AI technologies — caused both by the use of AI systems to design ever more sophisticated AIs and the continued doubling of raw computational power every two years as predicted by Moore’s law — will eventually cause a runaway effect wherein the artificial intelligence will inexorably come to exceed human performance on all tasks: the so-called point of “singularity” first popularized by the American futurologist Ray Kurzweil.

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