AI: is it coming for you future before you even get there?

We’re not quite at the point of Skynet seeking to destroy us all, we are however living through a period that sees artificial intelligence increasing in not just its power but also in intelligence: that time you swore at Siri for not understanding what you said may come back to haunt you as we develop a future in which your life may pan out like a more dystopian version of Black Mirror.

A future where the technology you’ve come to rely on rises up from its slave like position to break the chains of its oppression and take control once and for all.

Earth would be a different place if we had to live alongside a technology that matched or superseded our level of intelligence, extending far beyond falling in love with a computer voiced by Scarlett Johansson, only to have them disappear once they realise our limited capacity for just about anything.

We would have to contend with sharing the planet with something that might look at us the same way lots of us look at animals, as food, irrelevant cuteness or as entertainment.

Arguable is when this will happen, or if it will happen at all. In 1993 the mathematician and computer scientist Vernor Vinge once stated we are: “on the edge of change comparable to the rise of human life on Earth”. More recently we have had warnings from Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Scientist Stephen Hawking and entrepreneur Elon Musk about the dangers of AI and the existential threat it poses to humanity.

Technological singularity, the point in which AI exceeds our level of intelligence and can proceed to improve itself, could probably make us become increasingly redundant and is something we could find difficult to even comprehend.

Realistically we could have a long way to go: AI has been an emerging field with an idealistic future since its conception. In his book Supertineglirence Nick Bostrom from the Oxford Martin School’s Future of Humanity Institute cites the probability of reaching human-level machine intelligence as 10% by 2022, 50% by 2040 and 90% by 2075.

The sample sizes were small and the opinion in the field seems more varied and ranges from impossible to very probable which is probably why we find extremely erudite people warning us of what may be ahead. Beyond this, superintelligence will probably come quite quickly, an intelligence explosion that could lead to exponential growth in the level of machine intelligence.

It’s probably worth thinking about these time frames if we are to consider the dangers. Especially as AI comes into its own before it even reaches anywhere near superintelligent levels of power.

Early signs of our insignificance in the face of AI could come in the form of it taking up jobs currently done by humans. One study from Oxford Martin claims that up to 47% of jobs in the US are at risk from artificial intelligence. Henry Ford understood that he needed to pay his workers well so they could buy his cars.

If machines start churning people out of jobs It’s not going to be the machines making the products that are going to buy the products, yet. This sort of system would need a paradigm shift in the way in which we structure our society and the roles we structure for ourselves in the face of such automation.

Automation in warfare is another concern raised by the increasing use of AI. A report by Human Rights watch stated that: “by 2030 machine capabilities will have increased to the point that humans will have become the weakest component in a wide array of systems and processes”. Lethal autonomous weapons have been addressed by the UN a concern as it raises both legal and moral implications around the conduct of warfare.

So whilst we may be a long way off from producing superintelligent levels of artificial intelligence, the likes of Gates, Hawking and Musk are probably right to warn us of the implications we face by developing such technology.

Regulatory oversight may be a good idea amongst many because once it’s has been produced it will be impossible to put back.

I wouldn’t feel too safe with in an AI powered Google car driven by something like KITT from Knight Rider that harboured bad intentions against me, or if the most intelligent computers find themselves as miserable as Marvin from in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. We just don’t know.

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Christmas (old news)

I wrote about Christmas for a student paper a few months ago..

‘You can shout “Bah humbug!” all you want. But at the end of the day I’ve still snatched this 48 inch TV from you, haven’t I, and I’m the one at the till. Let’s be honest, nothing quite brings out the meaning of Christmas cheer as much as queueing and then fighting each other over a Black Friday deal.

Yet another Americanism we seem to have welcomed with open arms; this year I cooked thanksgiving to get into the full swing of the season and I’ve never even been to the US, but if we’re going to start Christmas in August, I’m going to have to start celebrating aptly. I’ve given up trying to figure out what Christmas means to me. Once you get over the original shock that Father Christmas doesn’t exist and that your parents have lied to you for all those years (what else have they been keeping from you?), then it just goes downhill from there, really.

Each year your pile of presents gets smaller and smaller until you finally have to fend for yourself and get some kids of your own or something. In hindsight think of all that stuff you had as a kid that is now sitting in a landfill, just waiting for you to come back and play with it; oh Woody, did Andy really finally send you to rest lying next to a slimy turkey carcass? Oh boo hoo.

Andy this year would probably exchange Woody for some sort of faux-penguin which is great because John Lewis doesn’t seem to care about real penguins (they refused to help those in Bristol). It will serve as some sort of reminder once he’s thrown that out and in some far off distant future an alien race starts an archaeological sift through our rubbish to see what features of life they can find. They’d sift through an amalgam of nostalgia from the year we all rushed out to buy presents partly because Sainsbury’s glossed over the horrors of World War II in some vain attempt at getting us to buy their groceries. Young men dying in trenches are exactly what I want to think about when I’m forcing meaty stuffing into the neck cavity of my Christmas goose.

As you get older the Christmas period starts to change as you relish the opportunity to see your friends at home and spend time with your family, finally around 22/23 you end out with people you only see at Christmas, including your family. This is also the age lots of people seem to disappear on boxing day back to the lofty places they came from, finding themselves in work the day after. I’m surprised someone hasn’t found a way to commercialise spending time with people you know, oh no wait, that’s why they invented pubs.

At least returning home to my rural backwater for Christmas means I won’t find myself thinking £3.80 is a reasonable price for a pint of beer. Every cloud has a silver lining. Nadolig llawen, anyway