Be afraid, be very afraid.
That’s the message that is starting to dominate the media’s many channels when it comes to artificial intelligence. And it’s not just prognosticators but such voices as Elon Musk and the grandfather of AI that are saying an apocalyptic future may loom in the distance.
I’m not hitting the panic button yet, but the sheer velocity of what AI is either able to achieve or is moving toward achieving seems to increase exponentially each week. Congress is holding hearings and a Drudge banner links a British report on “BOTS TAKING OVER NET”: “Nearly half of all activity online is the work of automated ‘bots’ rather than humans.”
There are always caveats: This may not happen. The chatbots are inconsistent, dependent on what they’re fed. We can take steps to bring them under control.
RUSSIA REDUX: TRUMP HAILS DURHAM REPORT, MEDIA CALL IT A NOTHING-BURGER
But the ultimate question: Are they capable of human reasoning? And if so, could they so outpace mere mortals that they will dominate society?
I know, it sounds like one of the Marvel comics I grew up reading or bad sci-fi movie. But this isn’t fiction.
Sam Altman, the chief executive of OpenAI, which started it all – Musk was an original investor – who wants government to race to the rescue.
“I think if this technology goes wrong, it can go quite wrong,” he told a congressional hearing the other day. “And we want to be vocal about that. We want to work with the government to prevent that from happening.”
Altman got a warm reception because it’s not very often that a CEO goes to the Hill and asks for federal regulation.
FADING NEWSROOMS, BLATANT BIAS AND A WAR WITH TRUMP HAS RAVAGED THE BUSINESS
Musk is urging a six-month moratorium on AI research, but that’s not happening, so he’s gearing up for his own AI venture. Microsoft has the biggest lead, having invested billions in OpenAI, and Google is playing catchup.
If you’re tempted to dismiss all this as fantasy, check out the lead of this New York Times story on Microsoft’s test to see if a chatbot could display an “intuitive understanding of the physical world”:
“‘Here we have a book, nine eggs, a laptop, a bottle and a nail,’ they asked. ‘Please tell me how to stack them onto each other in a stable manner.’
“The researchers were startled by the ingenuity of the A.I. system’s answer. Put the eggs on the book, it said. Arrange the eggs in three rows with space between them. Make sure you don’t crack them.
“‘Place the laptop on top of the eggs, with the screen facing down and the keyboard facing up,’ it wrote. ‘The laptop will fit snugly within the boundaries of the book and the eggs, and its flat and rigid surface will provide a stable platform for the next layer.’”
Now I was a bit gobsmacked by this – especially since I couldn’t have done it. I would have cracked all the eggs.
Al Hinton, an AI pioneer who recently left Google so he could speak out, now regrets his role in creating it. “It is hard to see how you can prevent the bad actors from using it for bad things,” he told the Times.
Look, chatbots have already had a revolutionary impact on our culture: More cheating in schools, more assistance for writers, but also replacing writers who had the drudge work of compiling lists. In the not-that-distant future, some will lose their jobs, but others will find their jobs easier. It’s like what Henry Ford’s assembly line did to horse-and-buggy drivers. Time marches on.
SUBSCRIBE TO HOWIE’S MEDIA BUZZMETER PODCAST, A RIFF ON THE DAY’S HOTTEST STORIES
But AI, which can make colossal mistakes and fabrications, is still in its infancy. I don’t know what role government will end up playing. Maybe the media are amplifying fears too loudly, since a new Reuters poll shows 61% believe AI threatens the future of humanity, 22% disagree and 17% aren’t sure.
We shouldn’t be freaking out over the notion that bots are taking over the world. Maybe just a high state of nervousness.
Read the full article here