Huw Price in Aeon:
Should we be concerned? People have been speculating about machine intelligence for generations – so what’s new?
Well, two big things have changed in recent decades. First, there’s been a lot of real progress – theoretical, practical and technological – in understanding the mechanisms of intelligence, biological as well as non-biological. Second, AI has now reached a point where it’s immensely useful for many tasks. So it has huge commercial value, and this is driving huge investment – a process that seems bound to continue, and probably accelerate.
One way or another, then, we are going to be sharing the planet with a lot of non-biological intelligence. Whatever it brings, we humans face this future together. We have an obvious common interest in getting it right. And we need to nail it the first time round. Barring some calamity that ends our technological civilisation without entirely finishing us off, we’re not going to be coming this way again.
There have been encouraging signs of a growing awareness of these issues. Many thousands of AI researchers and others have now signed an open letter calling for research to ensure that AI is safe and beneficial. Most recently, there is a welcome new Partnership on AI to Benefit People and Society by Google, Amazon, Facebook, IBM and Microsoft.
For the moment, much of the focus is on safety, and on the relatively short-term benefits and impacts of AI (on jobs, for example). But as important as these questions are, they are not the only things we should be thinking about.