Artificial Intelligence Summit: Confronts Rise of Ultra-Smart Machines

July 26, 2009

(ChattahBox)—Someday soon, artificial intelligence may become so advanced, that “unenhanced” humans without the benefit of Borg-like nanotechnology, would be unable to keep up. When that happens, the human race must be prepared for the aftermath of dueling technological advances that not only benefit mankind, but also have the potential to run amok and destroy life as we know it.

Artificial intelligence (A.I.) is advancing so rapidly that a group of the top computer scientists and A.I. experts met recently in February at the famed Asilomar Conference Center, in Monterey Bay, California, to confront the growing threat of superintelligent machines surpassing the abilities of humans to control them.

Private discussions were held on imposing limits to future advances in A.I. to ensure that research would benefit society, rather than create a stepping-stone for a technological catastrophe.

The dawn of the 21st century has already spawned robots nearly capable of killing autonomously, computer viruses that humans can’t control, robots that can search out electrical outlets to recharge themselves and machines that interact with patients with human feelings of empathy.

The A.I. summit was organized by Microsoft researcher Eric Horvitz, as president of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence and it’s seen as a pivotal point in the future direction of A.I. research.

According to Dr.Horvitz, a report from the conference will be released later this year and will address “the loss of human control of computer-based intelligences.” The report will also deal “with socioeconomic, legal and ethical issues, as well as probable changes in human-computer relationships.”

The frightening prospect of superintelligent machines taking over the world and warring with humans, or the birth of a new computer-based life form, such as the computer Hal in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” may still reside in the realm of science fiction, but scientists agree that legitimate concerns exist about how the future of artificial intelligence will alter society.

Some experts at once extolled the benefits of A.I. research, while others fear the future disruption to human society. Bill Joy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems belongs in latter group of experts who warn of a future catastrophe, if the field of A.I. research is allowed to proceed unchecked, especially unregulated nanotechnology.

“An immediate consequence of obtaining the great power of nanotechnology is that we run a grave risk that we might destroy the biosphere on which all life depends, said Joy.

The scientists at the conference pointed to the negative consequences of the loss of human jobs, as computers become able to perform more advanced tasks such as, robot-controlled cars, computer-based personal assistants and service robots that perform domestic tasks.

Some scientists were concerned about criminals exploiting the advancements in artificial intelligence to steal sensitive data and cause worldwide disruptions.

A small, but growing group of computer scientists, are treating advances in A.I. as a life-altering religious experience. “Something new has taken place in the past five to eight years,” Dr. Horvitz said. “Technologists are replacing religion, and their ideas are resonating in some ways with the same idea of the Rapture.”

Scientists like, “futurist” Ray Kurzweil embrace the future advances in artificial intelligence, envisioning a technological utopia that “…would offer huge advances in life extension and wealth creation.” Kurzweil authored the best selling book, “The Singularity is Near,” where he promoted the concept of “singularity,” as a point of no return when machines surpass human intelligence, changing the world forever.

Kurzweil expanded on the theories first advanced by I. J. Good and Vernor Vinge, promoting the notion of the rise of superintelligent machines that would improve their own designs beyond what humans ever envisioned.

When the world reaches the point of “singularity”, Kurzweil sees a future society where, “Intelligent nanorobots will be deeply integrated in our bodies, our brains, and our environment, overcoming pollution and poverty, extending longevity, and creating full-immersion virtual reality and vastly enhanced human intelligence.”

Kurzweil predicts such a “singularity” will become a reality in a mere 35 years and he warns that we are not prepared to deal with the life-changing technology. Google co-founder Larry Page and NASA have joined with Kurzweil to form a Silicon Valley based “Singularity University,” which provides courses in advances in artificial intelligence “…to prepare a “cadre” to shape the advances and help society cope with the ramifications.”

Kurzweil’s website, KurzweilAi.com offers a glimpse into the futuristic world of the merging of man and machine. He created an A.I. photorealistic avatar host, named Ramona that is able to participate in human-like conversations. Ramona is also the first live virtual performing and recording artist.

Whatever the future holds, it’s reassuring to know that the world’s leading A.I. experts together with the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence are taking steps to place limits on dangerous research.

However, admittedly, the future embraced by Kurzweil of futuristic “enhanced” humans with nanorobots embedded in their brains is a frightening prospect.

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Comments

7 Responses to “Artificial Intelligence Summit: Confronts Rise of Ultra-Smart Machines”

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  4. Scotty on July 27th, 2009 12:32 pm

    We are dealing with an inevitable process. For good or for ill (usually both), AI will play an ever larger role in our lives and in the life of the planet. The fact that multiple organizations have arisen to think-tank the questions implicit in this shift is evidence of the fact that the best and brightest among us understand that there is no ducking the critical dialogue that must precede our arrival at the Singularity.

    By century’s end, we will be Cyborgs, Robots, Virtuals and a tiny group of disadvantaged Luddites. Those of us that refuse to adapt to the changes the Singularity holds will be off the radar as regards even the lowest-paying jobs.

    And, contrary to popular myth, the latter group is where we will encounter our greatest threat. For, the Luddites, excluded from virtually every opportunity and transformed in a matter of decades into a self-perpetuating underclass, will doubtless abandon their technological prejudices when it comes to identifying the means by which they will attack the advanced civilization we will seek to build. They will likely be the descendants of today’s religious fundamentalists, and like today’s fundamentalists they will gladly utilize the technologies created by their enemy in order to attack it. And, as they will be off the grid to a significant extent, they will be the human equivalent of black holes, more easily identified by the borders surrounding their absence than by any overt means.

    It is for this reason that much of the outreach work of the AI community must and should be directed toward the various religious communities that will either encourage or discourage the participation of their converts in the decades to come. Now is the time to identify and extend a hand to the potential sources of primary resistance to the imminent techno-evolutionary shift.

    Next on the list of threats would be those that will seek to utilize AI advancements as a means of acquiring and/or expanding illegitimate political power – despotic states, “revolutionary” organizations and/or terror groups. Today they are infecting our systems with computer viruses. Tomorrow, they may utilize the our technologies for far more frightening plans. This group will require a “by-any-means-necessary” approach and the sort of “realpolitik” demonstrated by diplomats like Henry Kissinger.

    I believe that we will identify the means by which we can assure that Super-intelligent beings (Cyborgs, Robots or Virtuals) do not seek to overcome their creators. Such will be a vexing undertaking, but we’ve the right folks dedicated to a successful outcome.

    It is the Luddites and the opportunists that really concern me. For, we’ve not as yet demonstrated the ability to do anything more than appease these groups. So, the forward thinking in our midst must begin to create the plans of action that will defend our emerging advanced society from those that either don’t understand it or those that would exploit it for lesser or malevolent aims.

  5. Accelerating Future » Singularity Coverage on ChattahBox on July 28th, 2009 10:39 pm

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  7. steve on November 20th, 2010 7:12 am

    I find it odd,,that NOW people are saying, oh the dangers of artificial intelligence. It was known the dangers long ago, but few said anything then. I think the real issue is the concept of advancement, or an advanced society. In an advanced society, machines would be doing all labors and choirs. Perhaps thats whats really behind the worries. If people have droids, and droids do what you tell them to do,, that gives power back to the people in another form. As to if your droid goes and does something terrible,in a future time, chances are you would have told it to, or it assumed thats what you meant. But I doubt all on its own it thought, hey lets go destroy so in so. Could a virus cause it to have run amok, sure it could, there is serious issues there. But then again some day a warhead could even be at risk over a virus, but do people speak of that. If you say oh a warhead could never be at risk,,then why would you even assume a robot could be?

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