The ‘threat’ posed by the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and self-aware machines is hugely overblown and based mostly on ideas gleaned from the excesses of Hollywood blockbusters such as The Terminator and I, Robot.
Nigel Shadbolt, professor of AI at the University of Southampton and chairman of the Open Data Institute, said at the HyperCat Summit 2015 that the fear of AI is based on fiction, not fact.
“The problem we have in AI is that people are convinced we are trying to build computers like the ones in the movies that are mad, bad and dangerous to know, the Terminators and the like who are variously looking to overthrow mankind.”
Duncan McFarlane, professor of industrial information engineering at the Cambridge University Engineering Department, also touched on this, noting that the recent Avengers: Age of Ultron film was “not a good advert for AI”.
Concerns with AI and the supposed threat it poses to humans have hit the headlines in the past year after concerns raised by technology luminaries Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk.
“With AI we are summoning the demons,” Musk said last year, while Hawking told the BBC: "The development of full AI could spell the end of the human race."
However, Shadbolt explained that the “reality is more prosaic” as AI already exists and is benefiting humanity in numerous ways every day.
“We have speech recognition and so forth but we’re nowhere near AI that is self-aware and cunning and out to get us, because AI is designed for specific tasks that they are great at doing. That’s it,” he said.
“AI had been getting on with this unremarked for some time until 'the threat' has been commented on.”
John Fox, professor of engineering science at the University of Oxford noted that AI has far more potential to help humanity by being used in areas such as medicine to uncover disease and treatments.
Duncan Anderson, chief technology officer for Watson Europe at IBM, also pointed out that Watson Oncology is already being used to help detect and treat cancer. “We can already say that Watson is helping save lives,” he said.
Meanwhile, Baroness Susan Greenfield, a scientist who specialises in the physiology of the brain, said that technology developments, while advanced, are a long way from replicating the capabilities of the human brain.
“It would be hard enough to build a tree or a flower, let alone a synapse [because] they’re changing every single moment. There is so much going on,” she said.
The comments from the experts echo those made by industry leaders at an event last month, who said that fears of AI threatening humanity are unfounded.
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