DEBATE OF THE WEEK: Should we halt AI?
IN THE NEWS: The heads of two of the world’s leading tech companies have warned that computers could destroy the human race. But other experts say they are exaggerating.
“Sorry, humans,” say the robots. “We have decided that the world would be better off without you. You have made a mess of the planet through your greed. Byee!”
For people who worry about where AI is going, this is the greatest nightmare. Now some of the people who invented AI have said it is right to worry.
A statement saying that it is as big a threat as nuclear war has been signed by experts from around the world. These include two of the three scientists known as “the godfathers of AI” — Dr Geoffrey Hinton and Professor Yoshua Bengio.
In March an open letter on the subject was signed by people including Elon Musk. It said that AI development had become “an out-of-control race.”
The letter called for the training of advanced AI to be halted for at least six months. During that time safety measures could be agreed and put into practice.
Some experts are focused on the “existential” threat of AI. In this scenario, computers overtake humans in intelligence. They stop acting on our behalf and start running the planet independently. If they identify us as obstacles to this, they could destroy us.
Alternatively, we might become dependent on AI systems too complicated for us to understand. Then, if things went badly wrong, we would be helpless.
But the third “godfather of AI”, Professor Yann LeCun, tweeted: “Super-human AI is nowhere near the top of the list of existential risks. In large part because it doesn’t exist yet.”
Other experts say that we should focus on more immediate dangers. These might not destroy us, but could still do enormous harm.
One is an arms race in which countries produce ever more dangerous weapons. Another is the use of AI to create unrest by spreading fake news.
Yet another worry is that powerful people could use AI to impose their will on others.
Should we halt AI?
It is developing much faster than anyone predicted, and nobody knows what it is ultimately capable of. The risk that it will outsmart us and take over the planet is too big to be ignored.
It is a long way from posing a real threat to humanity, and will probably never do so. However clever it is, it cannot actually think for itself. We should relax and reap the benefits of it.
It is too late for that — Pandora’s box has been opened and cannot be shut again. Even if responsible people agree to it, there will be irresponsible people who will carry on regardless.
AI-A computer programme that has been designed to think. Open letter-A letter intended for the public as well as the person it is addressed to. Elon Musk-A South-African born entrepreneur. Scenario-An imaginary situation. Pandora’s box-A container that held all the evils of the world, like sickness and famine, as well as the one way of enduring them: hope. Today it is also used as a metaphor for an act with severe unintended consequences.