The World Is NOT Yours: The Rise of Superintelligent Machines

by February 15, 2017 2 comments

The Great Industrial Revolution in England was successful as it was backed by an imperialist government which made sure that it had the capital and a ready market to dispose of the product. The control over the ocean routes assured their global reach and it was financed by banks, investors and liquidly traded bonds. In a nutshell, the British industrialization received support from the government which was imperialist in nature and was supported by multiple entities at the same time thereby ensuring its success. It has immeasurably improved everyone’s life over the last couple hundred years.

In the current scenario, AI has the support of all the present technologies to reach its desired goal – being a superintelligent machine. We have developed a powerful network through 5G and connected systems are rapidly evolving. Multiple startups working in related fields are getting acquired by internet giants and billions of dollars are getting pumped into deep learning platforms, natural language generation companies and AI-optimized hardware.

We all have witnessed how Nvidia went from powering video games to revolutionizing artificial intelligence. According to an estimate by Forbes, there are an estimated 3,000 AI startups worldwide, and many of them are building on Nvidia’s platform so we can see that the technological development around AI has been collaborative so far.

Stephen Hawking has already warned us about the risk of super intelligent AI by saying that the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race and technology entrepreneur Elon Musk believes that AI is “our biggest existential threat”.

Sci-fi loves AI

Sci-fi movies and TV series have given us HAL 9000, The Borg, V.I.K.I., Agent Smith, Skynet, Ultron and other powerful intelligent machines that have tried to wipe off humanity from the planet Earth. In sci-fi literature, Isaac Asimov has talked about the problem of androids several times. The novel Robots and Empire and the short stories “Evidence” and “The Tercentenary Incident” describe robots crafted to fool people into believing that the robots are human. On the other hand, “The Bicentennial Man” and “— That Thou Art Mindful of Him” explore how the robots may change their interpretation of the Laws (Three Laws of Robotics) as they grow more sophisticated.

Noted American computer scientist and co-founder of Sun Microsystems, Bill Joy in his noteworthy article “Why The Future Doesn’t Need Us” argues that “Our most powerful 21st-century technologies — robotics, genetic engineering, and nanotech — are threatening to make humans an endangered species.” He rightly declares that we are being propelled into this new century with no plan, no control, no brakes.

Science as we know it has always grappled with the eternal question of ethics and morality. J. Robert Oppenheimer – the man behind the first atomic bomb was not naturally interested in politics but became painfully aware of what he perceived as the grave threat to western civilization from the Third Reich which led to the development of the N-bomb. In a nutshell, the nuclear bomb was a byproduct of competition and rivalry between world powers. We should have learned a lesson from the making of the first atomic bomb and the resulting arms race which followed but humans have the tendency of learning the hard way.

In the current scenario, we are armed with enormous computing power and have arrived at a juncture where new developments in physical sciences, deep understandings in genetics and enormous transformative power has made it possible for us to develop super-intelligent machines in the future.

The good, the bad and the ugly

I recently read an article in New Scientist about a drone that has been developed by Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, to transports pollen between flowers. The manually controlled drone is 4 centimeters wide and weighs 15 grams. When the drone flies onto a flower, pollen grains stick lightly to the gel and then rub off on the next flower visited.

In experiments, the drone was able to cross-pollinate Japanese lilies (Lilium japonicum). Moreover, the soft, flexible animal hairs did not damage the stamens or pistils when the drone landed on the flowers.

An influential science advisory group formed by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine lent its support recently to the modification of human embryos to create genetic traits that can be passed down to future generations. However, researchers fear that the techniques used to prevent genetic diseases might also be used to enhance intelligence, for example, or to create people physically suited to particular tasks, like serving as soldiers.

The science research division of the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) has published a report that talks about new ways to protect American assets by developing autonomous robotic systems and AI-powered weapons. The report highlights the tactical advantages of purely self-driven machines and humans and working together in the battlefield. The U.S. military also wants to develop AI cybersecurity software that can detect and react to threats faster that is now humanly possible.

There is no doubt that AI is the next big revolution of our time and we should ensure that it is not hijacked and corrupted by forces that see it as a tool of establishing control. A super-intelligent machine will be extremely good at accomplishing its goals but we have a problem if those goals aren’t aligned with ours. It can backfire if it starts seeing humans as a threat to solve task/problem say poverty by terminating people who are a burden on a society.

2 Comments so far

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  1. Abhijit Majumdar
    #1 Abhijit Majumdar 1 March, 2017, 10:07

    Simply brilliant. The whole discussion around AI is scattered as people are concerned about its overall potential. You have brought all the key points under one article which is really nice. Keep writing such stories.

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    • Sidharth Shekhar
      Sidharth Shekhar Author 1 March, 2017, 10:46

      Thanks for reading this article and your inputs Abhijit. AI has the potential to redefine our future and this is the main reason why many thinkers and scientists are concerned about its overall potential as we are afraid of its negative and positive side. But we should never forget that the good and the bad is in our hands and ultimately the choice is ours. If we want AI to be beneficial for the human race then all the stakeholders need to come together to protect it from being hijacked by corrupt minds and corporations.

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