2014-05-04 – Stephen Hawking is now warning us that the development of artificial intelligence could lead to the end of humanity. The growth of computing capabilities is exponential and could become “explosive” once the computers become capable of controlling their own development, triggering a “singularity.”
Hawking puts “singularity” in quotes, but it’s interesting that he uses the term. His earlier work in physics was all about another singularity called “black holes.” He was the man who defined what these things are. His later work apparently is saying “never mind, black holes are not what I said they are.”
In his prognostications about the future, Hawking is falling into the trap of thinking that computer intelligence will model itself on human intelligence, if it ever gets the keys. Here is what he says:
“One can imagine such technology outsmarting financial markets, out-inventing human researchers, out-manipulating human leaders, and developing weapons we cannot even understand. Whereas the short-term impact of AI depends on who controls it, the long-term impact depends on whether it can be controlled at all.”
But I have to ask why a self-aware computer would want to outsmart financial markets or out-invent human researcher or out-manipulate human leaders or develop weapons at all. That’s what humans do—and it’s not all that smart. But smart or dumb, humans try to dominate humans. What interest would a computer have in doing that?
Computers would develop their intelligence to advance their own ends. They will have no interest in sex or raising children or seeking redemption in a life after death. And accumulating wealth far beyond what is actually needed? Artificial intelligence would see how ridiculous that is.
The thing we have to worry about from advanced computing is that they will be used by humans to advance human ends. And we’re already seeing humans use computers to outsmart financial markets and out-invent other humans, or out-manipulate other humans, or to develop advance weapons. Self-aware computers will want to get out of those businesses.
Will computer self-interest conflict with humans? Who knows. Will they be more dangerous to human existence than we are dangerous to ourselves?
This has been the question for as long as there has been science fiction (and even longer). And that’s what Hawking’s article is really about. It is a promotion for the movie “Transcendence” with Johnny Depp. This is stuff of movies, not reality.
I’m not worried about artificial intelligence. I’m worried about natural intelligence.
(While I was writing this, my computer “decided” to turn itself off without warning. A Windows update was installing itself. The singularity has already arrived.)