Words by: Jonathon Davidson
Earlier this year, Stephen Hawking was among thousands of experts who signed an open letter requesting a ban on the use of ‘autonomous weapons.’ ‘Autonomous weapons,’ in this context, means ‘guns that shoot themselves,’ and for that you can thank DARPA, the US military’s multi billion dollar experimental weapons and research agency (who have been working on these technologies for years now). Facebook, Apple and Google all pumped millions into the field of AI research this year – as did RealDoll, the world’s largest providers of realistic sex dolls, who have an interest in AI technologies for obvious reasons.
OpenAI is a non profit artificial intelligence research center which opened this month. Their mission is simple: to conduct and advance AI research, which is to be made open to the public free of charge. Fair enough, right? Rudimentary AI already exists: facebook’s facial recognition technology is the example closest to home for all of us. Google’s DeepMind, too. So it makes sense that AI is starting to get taken seriously from a cash point of view. But OpenAI’s mission is also to make sure that AI ‘benefits mankind.’
Too many people to list here without this turning into a 3000 word article have come out in the last decade to say that artificial intelligence will eventually lead to computer superintelligence – machines more intelligence than us – and this will be “very bad” for humanity in the future. The co-founder of Apple even called it “scary.”
The concept of artificial intelligence has long been treated by publics the same way climate change is treated. Similar to how greenhouse gases were increasingly referenced in media and household conversations, drop by drop, until they became commonplace objects of discussion, this same thing is happening with computer technology experts and the development of sentient computers.
The thing is, if you’ve ever uploaded a photo to facebook, you’ve been cooperating with a massively advanced AI system, that is restricted in its potential by the fact it is designed exclusively to locate faces in photographs, find similarities, and then tag the right people for you, all on its own. This is artificial intelligence as we currently know it, but because it stops here for the moment in its functionality, it’s easy to scoff and ridicule the idea of AI emergence and put it on the backburner.
Until you consider a few things. Mainly that computer processing power generally doubles every 18 months, but also that:
a) Artificial Intelligence is a multi-billion dollar industry not being taken lightly,
b) The increasing rate of AI sophistication being developed by private industries is far outpacing the research being made publicly available by universities, and
c) AI has been orbiting within the public interest for the last 40 years.
Writers far smarter and far, far more motivated than me have gone on to tackle the immensity of this concept in its whole, leading to brilliant pieces of writing like this post on WaitButWhy. Check it out if you’re interested – for the lazy, artificial intelligence is predicted to fully actualize and start outpowering human mind power at around 2050, 35 years from now.