Innovation Files has moved! For ITIF's quick takes, quips, and commentary on the latest in tech policy, go to itif.org

Will Super Intelligent Computers Become an Existential Threat to Humanity?

aievent

As ITIF Vice President Daniel Castro explained at the outset of a recent ITIF event on the future of artificial intelligence (AI), we have seen significant advancement in AI in the past few years, from Google’s self-driving cars to IBM’s Watson to Apple’s Siri. At the same time, several prominent tech leaders—including Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Stephen Hawking—have expressed concern that these advances in AI will lead to supremely intelligent machines that could pose a threat to humanity. Should policymakers actually be worried, or are their concerns hyperbole?

There was general agreement among the speakers that AI has the potential to greatly improve society, including helping to alleviate poverty and cure disease. Manuela Veloso, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, explained that most technologies present certain risks but they are outweighed by the benefits. She advocated for additional research funding to build protections into future AI.

Some panelists expressed greater concerns over the dangers, especially if the research community does not work to address them in the near term. Nate Soares, executive director of the Machine Intelligence Research Institute, explained that artificial intelligence could be catastrophic for the human race if it is navigated poorly.

Similarly, Stuart Russell, a leading AI professor at UC Berkeley, explained that whether or not AI becomes a threat depends on the actions society takes to address this issue before it become a threat. Russell believes it will be difficult to build human values into intelligent systems to mitigate the risks. Indeed, because society cannot always agree on common values in the first place, it will be difficult to specify the right goals for machines.

Robert Atkinson, the president and founder of ITIF, agreed that work should be happening now to ensure that safety precautions are built into future development, but warned that harping on potential threats too much and outlining “doomsday scenarios” could potentially dry up funds for research or create a backlash that inevitably would halt progress on AI advancements that could generate substantial benefits.

As this research that is needed to build protections into AI continues to develop, Ronald Arkin, a regents’ professor and associate dean at the College of Computing at Georgia Tech, said the public should not consider AI in isolation and instead should think about it in the context of the types of problems it will be applied to.

The panelists disagreed somewhat over the timeline for how long it will be until machines are able to exhibit the level of super human intelligence that some worry about—anywhere from 5 to 150 years. However, they generally agreed that researchers should consider research efforts that ensure machines perform as designed and do not create unintended consequences. Sarah Connor, the protagonist in the Terminator franchise, would likely agree.

Want to learn more? Watch the event video here.

Print Friendly

About the author

Alan McQuinn is a research analyst at ITIF. His research areas include a variety of issues related to emerging technology and Internet policy, such as cybersecurity, privacy, virtual currencies, e-government, and commercial drones. Prior to joining ITIF, McQuinn was a telecommunications fellow for Representative Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and an intern for the Federal Communications Commission in the Office of Legislative Affairs. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a B.S. in public relations and political communications.
  • Rice Jonas

    I was supposed to keep this secret, but i have no choice in
    exposing it because it was a promise i made before i did what i did. Please i
    want you all to listen to my success story. i am a married man with two
    daughters and one son. The son is the oldest. So it happened that all the years
    my son has schooled with was a sincere wasted year. This is so because he
    always comes up almost last position in his class each year. So i became
    worried and i decided to look for solution to his problem. i did some internet
    search, where i found some persons saying i can use some kinds of tea and also
    naturally build it up for him. The funniest thing was that my other children
    the females were very brilliant in school and always come out in top position.
    So after all, someone directed me to a spell caster who is by the name Doctor
    Uwadia Amenifo, and i explained my son’s problem to him so he assured me that
    he can help me boost my son’s IQ and he will become the best student in his
    class. So i told him to go ahead and do what he has to do. So he prepared some
    herbal mixture which i believe was highly spiritual, and sent it to me. He gave
    me instructions on how my son is to take the herbal mixture. So i followed his
    instructions saliently and behold as i speak now my son is the best student in
    his class. He came out first position in his last exam. Please this is part of
    the promise i made to Doctor Uwadia Amenifo that immediately he can do it for
    me and my son becomes intelligent, i will testify to the world about him, and that
    is exactly what i am doing now. So in case you want same for may be your child,
    or yourself, or any one at all, please i enjoin you to quickly contact Doctor
    Uwadia Amenifo on his email (doctoruwadiaamenifo@gmail.com) or you can call him
    on his cell (+2349052015874).