Should we be scared of artificial intelligence?

Recent technology news coverage has been dominated by growing concerns over the development of artificial intelligence (AI). My interest was piqued by a particular Forbes article that frames this topic in terms of recent advancements and explores a variety of viewpoints from industry heavyweights. For your own reference, the article can be found here:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/theopriestley/2015/09/07/musk-and-hawking-are-wrong-we-should-fear-facebook-building-an-artificial-intelligence/

The author, Theo Priestley, hooked me and prompted me to read the full article – one in which he fundamentally disagrees with big technology players such as Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking. Hang on, why would someone be disagreeing with two of the most forward-thinking and well-respected human beings on our planet?! If anyone is going to know something about this growing phenomenon, surely it would be either of those people? We should be paying attention, not calling them ‘wrong’! Right?

Elon Musk, founder and CEO of Space Exploration Technologies Corp, says: “I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I had to guess at what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that.”’

Eminent physicist Stephen Hawking’s view is that “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”

Sure, the unknown is a scary thing, and the movie industry has done much to perpetuate the widely accepted ‘future’ of Artificial Intelligence – we’ve all seen the movies. There is a formulaic and uniform outcome – the Artificially Intelligent being turns on its creator, struggles for power, and is ultimately a force of destruction.

Theo describes how, in the real world, artificial intelligence handles queries, helps users and solves problems. This is possible through ‘understanding human behaviour, rather than the traditional method of building artificial intelligence by mimicking how the brain works through algorithms.’

Artificial intelligence products already on the market include Siri, Cortana and Google (OK Google). The newest AI to launch is ‘M’, the Facebook virtual assistant.

‘M’ would work in the same way as the main character Eva in the movie ‘Ex Machina’. (sidenote: highly recommended viewing!)

The data gets pulled; this will include personal information; names, nicknames, ages, etc. An important point Theo raises is that Facebook also owns WhatsApp and Instagram, meaning its data pull is far wider than any other network. It has access to phone numbers, photos, filter preferences, bio words and much, much more that the average user may not have considered before. This should make dealing with human queries an easy task, as they already have access to most of a user’s information and can give them tailored results specific to that individual.

Part of the training and development of ‘M’ relies heavily on human ‘assistants’; monitoring and tracking their own endeavours to solve problems – which websites are they visiting to glean the best information, which keywords are typed, etc. This will lead to further precise alterations to align ‘M’ more closely with human behavior patterns.

You may think this will lead to a brand new type of breach into personal data or even personal freedom. However, companies such as Facebook have already been manipulating users’ news feeds as part of psychology experiments. According to them, this measures how emotions spread across social media. Personally I feel that Facebook may have done this to understand human behaviour in a deeper context. Our once tacit and private thoughts, reactions and emotions are now on the open market to be measured, monitored and then ultimately mimicked.

With that in mind, I share some of Theo Priestley’s concerns and feel we should be proceeding with caution and prudence when allowing certain companies to create AI and be carefully examining their motives and end goals.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you think we should fear Artificial Intelligence? Or is the development of AI safe if the right organisations are at the forefront?

Leave a comment below, even if it just about how much you love/hate Ex Machina!!

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