What could a criminal do with a speech synthesis system that could masquerade as a human being? What happens if artificial intelligence technology is used to mine personal information from smartphones?
AI is becoming the stuff of future scifi greats: A robot that can open doors and find electrical outlets to recharge itself. Computer viruses that no one can stop. Predator drones, which, though still controlled remotely by humans, come close to a machine that can kill autonomously.
Real AI effects are closer than you might think, with entirely automated systems producing new scientific results and even holding patents on minor inventions. The key factor in singularity scenarios is the positive-feedback loop of self-improvement: once something is even slightly smarter than humanity, it can start to improve itself or design new intelligences faster than we can leading to an intelligence explosion designed by something that isn't us.
Artificial intelligence will surpass human intelligence after 2020, predicted Vernor Vinge, a world-renowned pioneer in AI, who has warned about the risks and opportunities that an electronic super-intelligence would offer to mankind.
Exactly 10 years ago, in May 1997, Deep Blue won the chess tournament against Gary Kasparov. "Was that the first glimpse of a new kind of intelligence?" Vinge was asked in an interview with Computerworld.
"I think there was clever programming in Deep Blue," Vinge stated in the interview, "but the predictable success came mainly from the ongoing trends in computer hardware improvement. The result was a better-than-human performance in a single, limited problem area. In the future, I think that improvements in both software and hardware will bring success in other intellectual domains."
"It seems plausible that with technology we can, in the fairly near future," Vinge continued, create (or become) creatures who surpass humans in every intellectual and creative dimension. Events beyond such an event -- such a singularity -- are as unimaginable to us as opera is to a flatworm."
Vinge is a retired San Diego State University professor of mathematics, computer scientist, and science fiction author who is well-known for his 1993 manifesto, "The Coming Technological Singularity, in which he argues that exponential growth in technology means a point will be reached where the consequences are unknown.
Alarmed by the rapid advances in artificial intelligence, also commonly called "AI", a group of computer scientists met to debate whether there should be limits on research that might lead to loss of human control over computer-based systems that carry a growing share of society's workload, from waging war to chatting with customers on the phone.
Scientists, reported CIO Today, pointed to a number of technologies as diverse as experimental medical systems that interact with patients to simulate empathy, and computer worms and viruses that defy extermination that have reached the "cockroach" stage of machine intelligence.
While the computer scientists agreed that we are a long way from one of film's great all-time evil villains, the Hal 9000, the computer that took over the Discovery spaceship in "2001: A Space Odyssey," they said there was legitimate concern that technological progress would transform the work force by destroying a widening range of jobs, as well as force humans to learn to live with machines that increasingly copy human behaviors.
Eric Horvitz of Microsoft said he believed computer scientists must considered seriously the possibility of superintelligent machines and artificial intelligence systems run amok.
"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."
This sentiment is best illustrated by the creation of Singularity University,a joint Google/NASA venture that has begun offering courses to prepare a "cadre" to help society cope with future ramifications.
An advanced academic institution sponsored by leading lights including NASA and Google (so it couldn't sound smarter if Brainiac 5 traveled back in time to attend the opening ceremony). The "Singularity" is the idea of a future point where super-human intellects are created, turbo-boosting the already exponential rate of technological improvement and triggering a fundamental change in human society - after the Agricultural Revolution, and the Industrial Revolution, we would have the Intelligence Revolution.
The Singularity University proposes to train people to deal with the accelerating evolution of technology, both in terms of understanding the directions and harnessing the potential of new interactions between branches of science like artificial intelligence, genetic engineering and nanotechnology.
Inventor and author Raymond Kurzweil is one of the forces behind SU, which we presume will have the most awesomely equipped pranks of all time ("Check it out, we replaced the Professor's chair with an adaptive holographic robot!"), and it isn't the only institutions he's helped found. There's also the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence whose sole function is based on the exponential AI increases predicted. The idea is that the first AI created will have an enormous advantage over all that follow, upgrading itself at a rate they can never catch up on simply because it started first, so the Institute wants to work to create a benevolent AI to guard us against all that might follow.
Make no mistake: the AI race is on, and Raymond wants us to win.
Posted by Casey Kazan.