Does the advent of super smart artificial intelligence mean that mere mortals will have to say goodbye to the human race? That is the potential prediction of Elon Musk, a technology leader who owns Tesla Motors. Musk has been vocal in raising his concerns about AI, and over the weekend he told the Twitterverse that AI could be “potentially more dangerous than nukes.” While many dismiss his concerns as the fruits of “someone who watches too much science fiction,” others are taking his statements seriously.
Earlier this year, Stephen Hawking gave a stern warning about AI as well, saying that successfully creating a computer than can outsmart humans “may be the last” move that mortals ever make. He has spoken on numerous occasions about the dangers of such an intelligence, and seemed to indicate that very little is being done to mitigate the potential risks of future AI technologies. He has also questioned whether humans would be able to control any artificial intelligence that might spring into existence.
Musk’s tweets over the weekend most likely have Neo Luddites shaking in their shoes with terror, as he said that it is “increasingly probable” that humans could become nothing more than “biological boot loader” for machines that can think for themselves. This prediction, many feel, is disconcerting, to say the least. Previously, Musk had said that a scenario for humans similar to the movie Terminator could be possible if people–especially the people who are involved in building computers that mimic the human brain–do not take precautions.
Complicating the matter is the flip side of the debate. Few would argue that AI technology holds exciting potential for human expansion, a greatly increased quality of life via medical breakthroughs, and an extensive list of additional benefits. Author and futurist Zoltan Istvan says that a more pressing concern is that humans get on board with the coming singularity–the moment in time when machine intelligence supersedes human intelligence and then explodes exponentially. Istvan explains:
The coming of artificial intelligence will likely be the most significant event in the history of the human species. Of course, it can go badly, as Elon Musk warned recently. However, it can just as well catapult our species to new and unimaginable transhumanist heights. Within a few months of the launch of artificial intelligence, expect nearly every science and technology book to be completely rewritten with new ideas–better and far more complex ideas. Expect a new era of learning and advanced life for our species. The key, of course, is not to let artificial intelligence run wild and out of sight, but to already be cyborgs and part machines ourselves, so that we can plug right into it wherever it leads. Then no matter what happens, we are along for the ride. After all, we don’t want to miss the Singularity.
Istvan has written a novel called The Transhumanist Wager. The book explores what will happen if futurists and transhumanists have their way and is an important book for those who are interested in learning more about AI. It is, of course, science fiction at this point, but history has already taught us that science fiction becomes reality more often than not.
Will artificial intelligence mean we have to say goodbye to the human race? No one knows for sure. However, the realization that many people currently alive will most likely be around to find out the answer is at once anxiety-producing and thrilling for many who are aware that we are on a trajectory toward building machines that can think for themselves.