What is AI?
From SIRI to self-driving cars, artificial intelligence (AI) is progressing rapidly. While science fiction often portrays AI as robots with human-like characteristics, AI can encompass anything from Google’s search algorithms to IBM’s Watson to autonomous weapons.
Artificial intelligence today is properly known as narrow AI (or weak AI), in that it is designed to perform a narrow task (e.g. only facial recognition or only internet searches or only driving a car). However, the long-term goal of many researchers is to create general AI (AGI or strong AI).
While narrow AI may outperform humans at whatever its specific task is, like playing chess or solving equations, AGI would outperform humans at nearly every cognitive task.
Why research AI safety?
In the near term, the goal of keeping AI’s impact on society beneficial motivates research in many areas, from economics and law to technical topics such as verification, validity, security and control. Whereas it may be little more than a minor nuisance if your laptop crashes or gets hacked, it becomes all the more important that an AI system does what you want it to do if it controls your car, your airplane, your pacemaker, your automated trading system or your power grid.
The creation of strong AI might be the biggest event in human history…it might also be the last.
Another short-term challenge is preventing a devastating arms race in lethal autonomous weapons.
In the long term, an important question is what will happen if the quest for strong AI succeeds and an AI system becomes better than humans at all cognitive tasks. As pointed out by I.J. Good in 1965, designing smarter AI systems is itself a cognitive task. Such a system could potentially undergo recursive self-improvement, triggering an intelligence explosion leaving human intellect far behind.
By inventing revolutionary new technologies, such a superintelligence might help us eradicate war, disease, and poverty, and so the creation of strong AI might be the biggest event in human history. Some experts have expressed concern, though, that it might also be the last, unless we learn to align the goals of the AI with ours before it becomes superintelligent.
There are some who question whether strong AI will ever be achieved, and others who insist that the creation of superintelligent AI is guaranteed to be beneficial. At FLI we recognize both of these possibilities, but also recognize the potential for an artificial intelligence system to intentionally or unintentionally cause great harm. We believe research today will help us better prepare for and prevent such potentially negative consequences in the future, thus enjoying the benefits of AI while avoiding pitfalls.
How can AI be dangerous?
Most researchers agree that a superintelligent AI is unlikely to exhibit human emotions like love or hate, and that there is no reason to expect AI to become intentionally benevolent or malevolent. Instead, when considering how AI might become a risk, experts think two scenarios most likely:
- The AI is programmed to do something devastating: Autonomous weapons are artificial intelligence systems that are programmed to kill. In the hands of the wrong person, these weapons could easily cause mass casualties. Moreover, an AI arms race could inadvertently lead to an AI war that also results in mass casualties. To avoid being thwarted by the enemy, these weapons would be designed to be extremely difficult to simply “turn off,” so humans could plausibly lose control of such a situation. This risk is one that’s present even with narrow AI, but grows as levels of AI intelligence and autonomy increase.
- The AI is programmed to do something beneficial, but it develops a destructive method for achieving its goal: This can happen whenever we fail to fully align the AI’s goals with ours, which is strikingly difficult. If you ask an obedient intelligent car to take you to the airport as fast as possible, it might get you there chased by helicopters and covered in vomit, doing not what you wanted but literally what you asked for. If a superintelligent system is tasked with a ambitious geoengineering project, it might wreak havoc with our ecosystem as a side effect, and view human attempts to stop it as a threat to be met.
As these examples illustrate, the concern about advanced AI isn’t malevolence but competence. A super-intelligent AI will be extremely good at accomplishing its goals, and if those goals aren’t aligned with ours, we have a problem.
You’re probably not an evil ant-hater who steps on ants out of malice, but if you’re in charge of a hydroelectric green energy project and there’s an anthill in the region to be flooded, too bad for the ants. A key goal of AI safety research is to never place humanity in the position of those ants.
Why the recent interest in AI safety
Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates, and many other big names in science and technology have recently expressed concern in the media and via open letters about the risks posed by AI, joined by many leading AI researchers. Why is the subject suddenly in the headlines?
The idea that the quest for strong AI would ultimately succeed was long thought of as science fiction, centuries or more away. However, thanks to recent breakthroughs, many AI milestones, which experts viewed as decades away merely five years ago, have now been reached, making many experts take seriously the possibility of superintelligence in our lifetime.
Since it may take decades to complete the required safety research, it is prudent to start it now.
While some experts still guess that human-level AI is centuries away, most AI researchers at the 2015 Puerto Rico Conference guessed that it would happen before 2060. Since it may take decades to complete the required safety research, it is prudent to start it now.
Because AI has the potential to become more intelligent than any human, we have no surefire way of predicting how it will behave. We can’t use past technological developments as much of a basis because we’ve never created anything that has the ability to, wittingly or unwittingly, outsmart us. The best example of what we could face may be our own evolution. People now control the planet, not because we’re the strongest, fastest or biggest, but because we’re the smartest. If we’re no longer the smartest, are we assured to remain in control?
FLI’s position is that our civilization will flourish as long as we win the race between the growing power of technology and the wisdom with which we manage it. In the case of AI technology, FLI’s position is that the best way to win that race is not to impede the former, but to accelerate the latter, by supporting AI safety research.
- Stuart Russell – The Long-Term Future of (Artificial) Intelligence
- Humans Need Not Apply
- Nick Bostrom on Artificial Intelligence and Existential Risk
- Stuart Russell Interview on the long-term future of AI
- Value Alignment – Stuart Russell: Berkeley IdeasLab Debate Presentation at the World Economic Forum
- Social Technology and AI: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2015
- Stuart Russell, Eric Horvitz, Max Tegmark – The Future of Artificial Intelligence
- Concerns of an Artificial Intelligence Pioneer
- Transcending Complacency on Superintelligent Machines
- Why We Should Think About the Threat of Artificial Intelligence
- Stephen Hawking Is Worried About Artificial Intelligence Wiping Out Humanity
- Artificial Intelligence could kill us all. Meet the man who takes that risk seriously
- Artificial Intelligence Poses ‘Extinction Risk’ To Humanity Says Oxford University’s Stuart Armstrong
- What Happens When Artificial Intelligence Turns On Us?
- Can we build an artificial superintelligence that won’t kill us?
- Artificial intelligence: Our final invention?
- Artificial intelligence: Can we keep it in the box?
- Science Friday: Christof Koch and Stuart Russell on Machine Intelligence (transcript)
- Transcendence: An AI Researcher Enjoys Watching His Own Execution
- Science Goes to the Movies: ‘Transcendence’
- Our Fear of Artificial Intelligence
Essays by AI Researchers
- Stuart Russell: What do you Think About Machines that Think?
- Stuart Russell: Of Myths and Moonshine
- Jacob Steinhardt: Long-Term and Short-Term Challenges to Ensuring the Safety of AI Systems
- Intelligence Explosion: Evidence and Import (MIRI)
- Intelligence Explosion and Machine Ethics (Luke Muehlhauser, MIRI)
- Artificial Intelligence as a Positive and Negative Factor in Global Risk (MIRI)
- Basic AI drives
- Racing to the Precipice: a Model of Artificial Intelligence Development
- The Ethics of Artificial Intelligence
- The Superintelligent Will: Motivation and Instrumental Rationality in Advanced Artificial Agents
- Wireheading in mortal universal agents
- Bruce Schneier – Resources on Existential Risk, p. 110
- Aligning Superintelligence with Human Interests: A Technical Research Agenda (MIRI)
- MIRI publications
- The Asilomar Conference: A Case Study in Risk Mitigation (Katja Grace, MIRI)
- Pre-Competitive Collaboration in Pharma Industry (Eric Gastfriend and Bryan Lee, FLI): A case study of pre-competitive collaboration on safety in industry.
Blog posts and talks
- AI control
- AI Impacts
- No time like the present for AI safety work
- AI Risk and Opportunity: A Strategic Analysis
- Where We’re At – Progress of AI and Related Technologies: An introduction to the progress of research institutions developing new AI technologies.
- AI safety
- Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies
- Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era
- Facing the Intelligence Explosion
- Machine Intelligence Research Institute: A non-profit organization whose mission is to ensure that the creation of smarter-than-human intelligence has a positive impact.
- Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER): A multidisciplinary research center dedicated to the study and mitigation of risks that could lead to human extinction.
- Future of Humanity Institute: A multidisciplinary research institute bringing the tools of mathematics, philosophy, and science to bear on big-picture questions about humanity and its prospects.
- Global Catastrophic Risk Institute: A think tank leading research, education, and professional networking on global catastrophic risk.
- Organizations Focusing on Existential Risks: A brief introduction to some of the organizations working on existential risks.
Many of the organizations listed on this page and their descriptions are from a list compiled by the Global Catastrophic Risk institute