Artificial intelligence has the potential to be as dangerous to mankind as nuclear weapons, a leading pioneer of the technology has claimed.
Professor Stuart Russell, a computer scientist who has lead research on artificial intelligence, fears humanity might be ‘driving off a cliff’ with the rapid development of AI.
He fears the technology could too easily be exploited for use by the military in weapons, putting them under the control of AI systems.
Leading artificial intelligence pioneer Stuart Russell has compared artificial intelligence to the development of nuclear weapons. He particularly fears what will happen if AI is used in weapons and military systems. Films such as Terminator (pictured above) have given what some believe is a glimpse of what could happen
He points towards the rapid development in AI capabilities by companies such as Boston Dynamics, which was recently acquired by Google, to develop autonomous robots for use by the military.
Professor Russell, who is a researcher at the University of California in Berkeley and the Centre for the study of Existential Risk at Cambridge University, compared the development of AI to the work that was done to develop nuclear weapons.
GOOGLE SETS UP AI ETHICS BOARD TO CURB THE RISE OF THE ROBOTS
Google has set up an ethics board to oversee its work in artificial intelligence.
The search giant has recently bought several robotics companies, along with Deep Mind, a British firm creating software that tries to help computers think like humans.
One of its founders warned artificial intelligence is ‘number one risk for this century,’ and believes it could play a part in human extinction.
‘Eventually, I think human extinction will probably occur, and technology will likely play a part in this,’ DeepMind’s Shane Legg said in a recent interview.
Among all forms of technology that could wipe out the human species, he singled out artificial intelligence, or AI, as the ‘number 1 risk for this century.’
The ethics board, revealed by web site The Information, is to ensure the projects are not abused.
Neuroscientist Demis Hassabis, 37, founded DeepMind two years ago with the aim of trying to help computers think like humans.
His views echo those of people like Elon Musk who have warned recently about the dangers of artificial intelligence.
Professor Stephen Hawking also joined a group of leading experts to sign an open letter warning of the need for safeguards to ensure AI has a positive impact on mankind.
In an interview with the journal Science for a special edition on Artificial Intelligence, he said: ‘From the beginning, the primary interest in nuclear technology was the “inexhaustible supply of energy”.
‘The possibility of weapons was also obvious. I think there is a reasonable analogy between unlimited amounts of energy and unlimited amounts of intelligence.
‘Both seem wonderful until one thinks of the possible risks. In neither case will anyone regulate the mathematics.
‘The regulation of nuclear weapons deals with objects and materials, whereas with AI it will be a bewildering variety of software that we cannot yet describe.
‘I’m not aware of any large movement calling for regulation either inside or outside AI, because we don’t know how to write such regulation.’
This week Science published a series of papers highlighting the progress that has been made in artificial intelligence recently.
In one, researchers describe the pursuit of a computer that is able to make rational economic decisions away from humans while another outlines how machines are learning from ‘big data’.
Nuclear research was conducted with the aim of producing a new energy source, but scientists also knew that it could be used to create weapons of great power. Professor Russell warns AI could be put to similar use if researchers are not careful. A nuclear bomb test is shown over French Polynesia in the image above
Autonomous robots like Boston Dynamics Big Dog (shown above) particularly concerned Professor Russell
Professor Russell, however, cautions that this unchecked development of technology can be dangerous if the consequences are not fully explored and regulation put in place.
He said: ‘Here’s what Leo Szilard wrote in 1939 after demonstrating a [nuclear] chain reaction: ‘We switched everything off and went home. That night, there was very little doubt in my mind that the world was headed for grief.’
‘To those who say, well, we may never get to human-level or superintelligent AI, I would reply: It’s like driving straight toward a cliff and saying, ‘Let’s hope I run out of gas soon!’
In April Professor Russell raised concerns at a United Nations meeting in Geneva over the dangers of putting military drones and weapons under the control of AI systems.
He joins a growning number of experts who have warned that scenarios like those seen in films from Terminator, AI and 2001: A Space Odyssey are not beyond the realms of possibility.
Elon Musk is one of the driving forces behind super-intelligent computers but last year, the Tesla founder warned that AI could to do more harm than nuclear weapons (Tweet pictured)
He: ‘The basic scenario is explicit or implicit value misalignment – AI systems [that are] given objectives that don’t take into account all the elements that humans care about.
‘The routes could be varied and complex—corporations seeking a supertechnological advantage, countries trying to build [AI systems] before their enemies, or a slow-boiled frog kind of evolution leading to dependency and enfeeblement not unlike EM Forster’s The Machine Stops.’
EM Forster’s short story tells of a post-apocalyptic world where humanity lives underground and relies on a giant machine to survive, which then begins to malfunction.
Professor Russell said computer scienitsts needed to modify the goals of their research to ensure human values and objectives remain central to the development of AI technology.
He said students needed to be trained to treat these objectives much in the same way ‘as containment is central to the goals of fusion research’.
In an editorial in Science, editors Jelena Stajic, Richard Stone, Gilbert Chin and Brad Wible, said: ‘Triumphs in the field of AI are bringing to the fore questions that, until recently, seemed better left to science fiction than to science.
‘How will we ensure that the rise of the machines is entirely under human control? And what will the world be like if truly intelligent computers come to coexist with humankind?’