Not long ago, Stephen Hawking warned that because people would be unable to compete with an advanced AI, it “could spell the end of the human race.” Elon Musk has weighed in with his concerns, too, warning that AI could be more dangerous than nukes. Those who found themselves amused by Google’s robots that could pick themselves up, but were still not quite a match for the guy who knocked them down, or watched a Google robot dog play with a real dog, might have considered Hawking’s and Musk’s comments as needlessly promoting fear-mongering, as they were jumping the gun on some possible far-off dystopian future, the operative being ‘far-off,’ given the various foibles of the robots.Technology, including AI and robotics, were still in their early stages. We know that the two are completely different disciplines: patience.
In case you missed it, last week, Google’s AlphaGo beat a Go master, employing (in the third game, the AI having won the previous two) a move that was first perceived as a glitch in the program, as it came from out of nowhere and made no sense at all. It was a move that led to the program’s victory over the previously nearly-undefeated human, and no one saw it coming, of course, the latter part of the sentence being the operative. That so-called glitch has described as being both ‘inhuman’ and ‘beautiful,’ and while both are true, the net-net is that it’s potentially pretty frightening. It seems AI, which is ‘Artificial Intelligence,’ but given what amounted to be the alien nature of the program’s decision, maybe we do need to re-define AI as ‘Alien Intelligence,’ the program’s odd move having first been perceived as a move outside human comprehension, ergo, ‘alien.’
What no one is saying in so many words, is that for the first time, there will be an intelligence on the planet that’s greater than that of human beings. What no one is pointing out, in just so many words, is how many of our systems are run by computers – financial systems, yes, but also systems on which our very survival depends, such as the power grid.
Shelly Palmer wrote an excellent must-read: AlphaGo vs. You: Not a Fair Fight Says Palmer, “I have to urge caution. Thinking machines will also learn to fight, they will learn to create computer viruses unlike any the world has ever known, they will level the playing field between good guys and bad guys in ways no one can really predict and they will impose symmetry on warfare that is currently asymmetrical – which is what scares me the most.”
One of our potentially greatest fears may have already come to pass – or is at least coming damned close: the pupil is surpassing the teacher.
Lest we forget, AlphaGo is a project from Google’s DeepMind. Google, or Alphabet, which also owns Boston Robotics, makers of the aforementioned robotic dog – and the robot that was pushed around by a human, and got back up, but amazing what else those robots can do.
Google is also wiring cities with high-speed broadband, and its Project Loon is attempting to bring unwired remote – and ‘underserved’/untracked? – parts of the world online. Google has also Unveil(ed) Neural Network with ‘Superhuman’ Ability to Determine the Location of Almost Any Image and has been experimenting with drones, too, having bought Titan Aerospace a while back, whose drones “can stay aloft for up to five years without having to land or refuel, making them an intriguing possibility for beaming out Internet service.” For one.
Then there’s this: Your Smartphone Knows Who You Are and What You’re Doing. According to this Bloomberg piece, “You can extract enough information on a typical person’s phone that you can construct a virtual clone of that individual,” said Elad Yoran, executive chairman of Koolspan Inc., a communications security company. “They are the windows not just into our personal lives but they are equally the windows into our professional lives.” So, is that an Android in your pocket, or are you just happy to see us? And welcome to the wonderful world of Surveillance Capitalism.
But the attention is currently on AlphaGo and while looking at the detail work is fine, always good to zoom out and see what the entire rug looks like, before you buy. Google’s AI victory is a reminder of the beautifully alien nature of machine intelligence, says Quartz. “A classic fear about AI is that the machines we build to serve us will destroy us instead, not because they become sentient and malicious, but because they devise unforeseen and catastrophic ways to reach the goals we set them. Worse, if they do become sentient and malicious, then—like Ava, the android in the movie Ex Machina—we may not even realize until it’s too late, because the way they think will be unrecognizable to us.” What we might have envisioned as ‘beautifully alien’ might not be so pretty after all.
Update: Go grandmaster Lee Se-dol won the fourth of five games in the Go match, and found what he believed to be “two weaknesses in the artificial intelligence (AI) program. AlphaGo seemed to have a problem with unexpected moves, indicating the machine lacked the ability to deal with surprises, and appeared to have more problems playing with a black stone, Lee said,” according to The Guardian, it’s still early days in the history of the rise of the machines.
While we are the consummate optimist and don’t relish a dystopian future, we have a president who is sitting there, tieless and relaxed, attempting to assuage our fears about surveillance (at $250/seat, mind you) at South By Southwest, and please! – and meets with Google upper echelon weekly in the White House. Time to take a look at the whole picture – and to wake up, before the machines do. Onward and forward.