We've all seen the headlines.
Tech giants like Bill Gates and Elon Musk have been quoted as saying artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to "destroy us all" and that it's "humanity's biggest existential threat."
The problem is many of these quotes are taken out of context. Most experts don't think we're on the brink of being overrun by AI robots (though these supermachine's appearances in recent movies like Ex Machina aren't helping) — they're actually optimistic about the future of AI and what it will do for humanity.
But to tap into the benefit of AI (and avoid the doom and gloom of AI), we need to change the way we think about its development, Max Tegmark, founder of the Future of Life Institute, said during an episode of NPR's Science Friday.
"It's time to redefine the goal of AI away from making things as smart as possible as fast as possible to making things that are really going to be beneficial for society," Tegmark said. "The way I think about this is a race between the growing power of tech and the growing wisdom that we manage our tech with."
So as long as computer scientists start including safety research in AI development, the potential benefits are endless.
"The AI in our life today is providing only a small glimpse of the profound beneficial contributions to come," Eric Horvitz, managing director of Microsoft Research Lab, said during the episode.
Even the AI technology were developing right now has the potential to save thousands of lives, Horvitz said. Driverless cars could dramatically decrease the 30,000 roadway deaths per year in the US (it's about 1 million worldwide). AI could also help prevent the thousands of accidental deaths that happen every year at hospitals due to errors that come from handling the giant reams of patient records.
So on one hand we absolutely should be worried about what could go wrong with AI, but we can't forget the enormous benefits that come with it.
So while Gates, Musk, and other high profile scientists and futurists have made it clear that they believe AI is a risk, Tegmark says that everyone usually comes to the same conclusion:
"Of course we're concerned that this could be the worst thing ever to happen to humanity, but we're also very hopeful that this will be something really great if we do the right things now," Tegmark said.
And Horvitz said that after talking with Gates about AI, he felt like the two of them were in agreement: we shouldn't march ahead carefree, but we can still be largely optimistic about the future.
The Future of Life Institute is now funding AI safety research.
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