AI Visionaries

Artificial intelligence (AI) is progressing so fast that there are new developments in the field almost every week. The tendrils of AI grow further into human life and continue to rapidly intertwine with our reality, and this process will only accelerate. Some worry about the consequences of a future in which AIs have more capabilities than humans, while some relish this prospect. IEEE Spectrum has just published a special issue for June 2017, which reports on the views of nine visionaries, technologists, and futurists on what's coming in AI.

Each expert was asked, “When will we have computers as capable as the brain?” Ray Kurzweil thinks this will happen in 2029, while Jürgen Schmidhuber simply agrees that it will be “soon,” and Gary Marcus estimates that it will happen 20 to 50 years from now. Nick Bostrom predicts “within a small number of decades.” Rodney Brooks is a little more conservative, estimating 50 to 100 years, while both Robin Hanson and Martine Rothblatt think that it will happen within the 21st century.

Ruchir Puri's answer to this question was perhaps the most interesting: “A human brain is fundamentally different than being a champion chess, 'Jeopardy!,' or Go player. It is something that entails essential traits like caring, empathy, sharing, ingenuity, and innovation. These human brain traits might prove to be elusive to machines for a long time. . .. Although AI’s impact on society will accelerate further. . .it will be a while before we will be able to holistically answer [that] question.”

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The Singularity, Approaching

So, “How will brainlike computers change the world?” Robin Hanson thinks that humans will get rich from robot labor, while Gary Marcus anticipates major advancements in science and medicine and Martine Rothblatt agrees with Kurzweil that we will essentially eventually become downloadable and therefore immortal. Ray Kurzweil sees AI as a massive brain extender, and therefore a problem solver, making every aspect of our lives better. Rodney Brooks thinks making realistic predictions about this isn't possible since it's too far off, and instead posits that in 20 years, baby boomers — including Kurzweil — will be assisted by in-home computers, but won't be immortal. Jürgen Schmidhuber thinks that AIs will be fascinated by the possibilities of space as they become self-motivated and pursue their own goals.

Finally, “Do you have any qualms about a future in which computers have human-level (or greater) intelligence?” Carver Mead points out that people always fear new technologies, even though history shows that we have continually benefitted from them. Robin Hanson thinks anyone who doesn't have qualms about a change this momentous isn't paying attention, but Martine Rothblatt doesn't have qualms, because she thinks human needs will shape a Darwinian market for robots. Ray Kurzweil thinks we will avoid peril and gain optimally by merging with AI. Nick Bostrom is concerned by the problem of scalable control of AI, while Rodney Brooks says he has “no qualms at all,” and that "qualming" is not useful, even for Nick Bostrom. Gary Marcus doesn't see clear solutions to potential problems yet, but thinks that future technologies will provide them.

The experts had different ideas about many things, but there was no dispute about the most important point: the singularity is coming, and it's closer than we think.

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