While Artificial Intelligence (AI) has improved our lives in a plethora of ways, we must consider the loss of privacy and control, as well as economic implications.
An Oxford philosophy professor who has studied existential threats ranging from nuclear war to superbugs says the biggest danger of all may be superintelligence.
There are two ways artificial intelligence could go, Bostrom argues. It could greatly improve our lives and solve the world's problems, such as disease, hunger and even pain. Or, it could take over and possibly kill all or many humans. As it stands, the catastrophic scenario is more likely, according to Bostrom, who has a background in physics, computational neuroscience and mathematical logic. "Superintelligence could become extremely powerful and be able to shape the future according to its preferences," Bostrom reports. "If humanity was sane and had our act together globally, the sensible course of action would be to postpone development of superintelligence until we figure out how to do so safely."
Bostrom, the founding director of Oxford's Future of Humanity Institute, lays out his concerns in his new book, Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies. His book makes a harrowing comparison between the fate of horses and humans: with the development of farm machinery and automobiles, horses became unnecessary and too costly. The same dark outcome, Bostrom said, could happen to humans once AI makes our labor and intelligence obsolete.
It sounds like a science fiction flick, but recent moves in the tech world may suggest otherwise. Earlier this year, Google acquired artificial intelligence company DeepMind and created an AI safety and ethics review board to ensure the technology is developed safely. Facebook created an artificial intelligence lab this year and is working on creating an artificial brain. Technology called "deep learning," a form of artificial intelligence meant to closely mimic the human brain, has quickly spread from Google to Microsoft, Baidu and Twitter.
And while Google's Ray Kurzweil has long discussed a technological "singularity" in which AI replaces humans, a giant in the tech world recently joined Kurzweil in vocalizing concern. Elon Musk, co-founder of SpaceX (space transport) and Tesla (electric cars), tweeted in August of this year:
Hope we're not just the biological boot loader for digital superintelligence. Unfortunately, that is increasingly probable
-- Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 3, 2014
Another Huffington Post article:
How will we organize our world if machines can provide goods and services at lower and lower costs while fewer and fewer have income enough to buy anything? Can we educate our way out of this mess, or will people be forced into a return to the land, tending 40 acres with the help of several mechanical mules? Can we legislate a Luddite future, where the new levels of automation are made illegal? Or will the techno utopians be vindicated by new sorts of work -- as yet unseen -- emerge to engage the surplus workers now being displaced?
The end state is uncertain, but we are headed toward a disruption of our society on the same order of magnitude as the rise of agriculture and industrialism, but in a much more compressed time frame: decades, not generations or centuries. And that question -- what are people for? -- will taunt us because it's unclear if there is an answer or whether it is just an irresolvable dilemma.
At every level of government—local, state, federal, and international—we are seeing rules, regulations, laws, and ordinances that address this developing technology actively discussed, debated, and passed. Four states have passed legislation governing autonomous cars, and they’re not even on the market yet. The FAA is drafting regulations to address drones, even though their use is relatively limited; there is even case law on the books addressing drone regulation.
States and towns are weighing in on drones, too. At least one urban planner is actively developing zoning ordinance provisions that would establish fly and no-fly zones for drones in cities. Internationally, the United Nations has begun to weigh in on how military drones fit into established international legal norms. Efforts from the United Nations are focused exclusively on saving lives and preventing killings by military drones. Many recognize that it is easier for governments to order killings and attacks when their own human soldiers aren't on the ground, separating the decision makers from the true cost of their decisions.
The Internet and automation in factories (i.e., robots) were among the last two major technological advances that altered our economy and labor market. Automation decimated blue collar workers beginning in the 1960s and the internet hit small businesses hard starting in the 1990s. One of the big reasons those technological advances were so hard on working and middle class workers is that we never adequately addressed them with legal changes as we did following the Industrial Revolution. But we also had much less time. There were 30 years between robots in factories and Amazon on the Internet, and there have been about 20 years between the introduction of the Internet and the introduction of AI and autonomous devices.
Now, in addition to its self-driving cars, Google is developing a secret fleet of self-flying delivery drones, according to a recent Atlantic article by Alexis Madrigal. The FAA’s regulations aren’t due until 2015—and those will probably be late—but hopeflly the drafters are looking ahead at the drones of the future and not just what’s available today.
This technology is going to develop fast, almost certainly faster than we can legislate it. That’s why we need to get ahead of it now. There are legitimate concerns about how AI and autonomous technology will impact the work force and our quality of life. There were in the face of the Industrial Revolution, factory automation, and the internet, too. If we want to make sure that the benefits of these technological advances are widely shared among all people, we need to legislate early and often. Otherwise, the problems experienced by working Americans and the middle class over the last several decades will only get worse.