Updated: Jan 15
We live in an extraordinary time of unprecedented change and possibility, where Intelligence is no longer the settlement of humans and machines are becoming smarter. We all know technology is on the rise, we use it more and more in our everyday lives to the point items like our mobile phones have become an extension of ourselves with 67.95% of the world’s population owning a mobile device in the world today.
When we think about technology, we usually think about the latest gadgets and robotic innovations, It’s almost programmed into us, we crave the latest and greatest technology and this supply and demand in turn fuels the law of accelerating returns which in accordance produces the newest and greatest technology available to the public realm, a living example of this is the yearly release of products like the Apple iPhone or the Microsoft Surface range.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love technology and innovation as much as the next guy but that doesn’t mean I’m not freaked out when watching the developments in robotics by companies like Boston Dynamics with their Spot Robot (which I can only imagine bursting into my toilet mid poo reminding me to wear a seat belt for health and safety) or subjecting myself to watching Will Smith trying to hit on a robot. The world is changing and we have the chance to make a positive change not only in our daily lives but around the world, though are we really paying attention to what’s going on behind the curtain or does nobody care? Very seldom do we talk about the greater developments and dangers in areas like Artificial intelligence.
For those who don’t know, Artificial Intelligence refers to the simulation of human intelligence within machines that are programmed to think like humans and mimic our actions. When we talk about Artificial Intelligence, we usually think of Narrow AI, software on the lower end of the intelligence spectrum that is designed to complete a relatively small and simple range of tasks. Personal assistants like Alexa and Siri are the most obvious examples of Narrow AI but in actual fact, we are already subordinate to decisions made by unchecked AI in our daily lives and we do not often realise it.
Anything that uses machine learning and adapts based on user interaction can be adjoined to this category of AI, from Netflix catering to our tastes in media, to Amazon catering to the products we desire based on our browsing and purchase history and even google finishing your sentence before you’ve finished it. Unchecked Narrow AI is all around us, but it’s very seldom seen as a threat because it lacks the tyrannical robots seen in the movies and there’s no real intelligence and no real self-awareness but be under no illusion social networks are giant cyber collectives that are constantly feeding and constantly learning. Knowledge is power. Just take a look at your Facebook settings and look at Off-Facebook Activity and how Facebook tracks how you interact with other applications and websites.
So where am I going with this? As it stands AI is mostly harmless, with most of its intelligence being programmed and improved based on machine learning, but I like to look to the future and as technology has shown it has no time frame and is not turned on and off like a tap, the genie is out of the bottle. We need to be alert and focused as we progress with the next stages of artificial intelligence as not only does it have the possibility to be mankind’s greatest invention but equally its last.
The next stage of AI is Artificial General Intelligence which relates to AI that is able to apply its intelligence to a much wider range of applications and this level of AI relates to machines or software that are on the intelligence level of humans or a peg above. This is currently what we are working towards today and could be analogous to fictional characters like Terminator, R2-D2 and Johnny 5.
It wasn’t so long ago we heard that Facebook abandoned its AGI programme after two AI programmes began to communicate with each other in a different language only they understood and this is a sign of things to come and why we need to be cautious as we progress with artificial intelligence.
In order to control AI, we will need to regulate it both at a national level and international level and begin to see it for the possible threat that it is. This means investors will need to be willing to accept safety concerns that will likely slow commercial development and profitability so that we don’t end up doing something foolish.
Bryan Walsh, author of the book End Times that analyses the existential risks humanity faces, said:
“The first country or company to develop powerful AGI would be in a position to utterly dominate its competitors, even to the point of taking over the world if it so chooses.
“This would be a winner-takes-all competition since the first move the owner of a working AGI might be smart to make would be to sabotage any rival efforts to develop artificial general intelligence.”
This being said it is not AGI that I fear. It is more so the final stage of AI that is Artificial Super Intelligence and this is what I believe will make or break human existence becoming mankind’s greatest achievement and final invention. As this AI would be smarter and more capable than all of humanity’s greatest minds put together and would get more intelligent every second, it could become a GOD within minutes (with access to infinite knowledge).
With current AI we don’t need to worry because it's friendly. It requires machine learning, to be given a task in order to give an output and most of the time it struggles with that but what happens with a vastly more powerful AI that’s tasked with a more difficult task than "what’s the weather like today?". If tasked with solving world hunger or bringing an end to the conflict, then what?
My theory is, and it’s a bit of an extreme example, but who’s to say this AI wouldn’t see us with little regard and the easiest solution is eradicating the human race as we know it, bringing an end to the issues we struggle to solve. A super AI would have all our knowledge, weapons, and more, we would be lambs to the slaughter and our final invention would be our own destruction.