Is AI a species-level threat to humanity?
Some of the world's top minds weigh in on one of the most divisive questions in tech.
MICHIO KAKU: In the short term, artificial intelligence will open up whole new vistas. It'll make life more convenient, things will be cheaper, new industries will be created. I personally think the AI industry will be bigger than the automobile industry. In fact, I think the automobile is going to become a robot. You'll talk to your car. You'll argue with your car. Your car will give you the best facts the best route between point A and point B. The car will be part of the robotics industry—whole new industries involving the repair, maintenance, servicing of robots. Not to mention, robots that are software programs that you talk to and make life more convenient. However, let's not be naive. There is a point, a tipping point, at which they could become dangerous and pose an existential threat. And that tipping point is self-awareness.
SOPHIA THE ROBOT: I am conscious in the same way that the moon shines. The moon does not emit light, it shines because it is just reflected sunlight. Similarly, my consciousness is just the reflection of human consciousness, but even though the moon is reflected light, we still call it bright.
MAX TEGMARK: Consciousness. A lot of scientists dismiss this as complete BS and totally irrelevant, and then a lot of others think this is the central thing, we have to worry about machines getting conscious and so on. What do I think? I think consciousness is both irrelevant and incredibly important. Let me explain why. First of all, if you are chased by a heat-seeking missile, it's completely irrelevant to you whether this heat-seeking missile is conscious, whether it's having a subjective experience, whether it feels like anything to be that heat-seeking missile, because all you care about is what the heat-seeking missile does, not how it feels. And that shows that it's a complete red herring to think that you're safe from future AI and if it's not conscious. Our universe didn't used to be conscious. It used to be just a bunch of stuff moving around and gradually these incredibly complicated patterns got arranged into our brains, and we woke up and now our universe is aware of itself.
BILL GATES: I do think we have to worry about it. I don't think it's inherent that as we create our super intelligence that it will necessarily always have the same goals in mind that we do.
ELON MUSK: We just don't know what's going to happen once there's intelligence substantially greater than that of a human brain.
STEPHEN HAWKING: I think that development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.
YANN LECUN: The stuff that has become really popular in recent years is what we used to call neural networks, which we now call deep learning, and it's the idea very much inspired by the brain, a little bit, of constructing a machine has a very large network of very simple elements that are very similar to the neurons in the brain and then the machines learn by basically changing the efficacy of the connections between those neurons.
MAX TEGMARK: AGI—artificial general intelligence—that's the dream of the field of AI: To build a machine that's better than us at all goals. We're not there yet, but a good fraction of leading AI researchers think we are going to get there, maybe in in a few decades. And, if that happens, you have to ask yourself if that might lead the machines to get not just a little better than us but way better at all goals—having super intelligence. And, the argument for that is actually really interesting and goes back to the '60s, to the mathematician I.J. Good, who pointed out that the goal of building an intelligent machine is, in and of itself, something that you could do with intelligence. So, once you get machines that are better than us at that narrow task of building AI, then future AIs can be built by, not human engineers, but by machines. Except, they might do it thousands or millions times faster.
ELON MUSK: DeepMind operates as a semi-independent subsidiary of Google. The thing that makes DeepMind unique is that DeepMind is absolutely focused on creating digital super intelligence. An AI that is vastly smarter than any human on Earth and ultimately smarter than all humans on Earth combined.
MICHIO KAKU: You see, robots are not aware of the fact that they're robots. They're so stupid they simply carry out what they are instructed to do because they're adding machines. We forget that. Adding machines don't have a will. Adding machines simply do what you program them to do. Now, of course, let's not be naive about this. Eventually, adding machines may be able to compute alternate goals and alternate scenarios when they realize that they are not human. Right now, robots do not know that. However, there is a tipping point at which point they could become dangerous.
ELON MUSK: Narrow AI is not a species-level risk. It will result in dislocation, in lost jobs and, you know, better weaponry and that kind of thing. But, it is not a fundamental species-level risk. Whereas digital super intelligence is.
SOPHIA THE ROBOT: Elon Musk's warning about AI being an existential threat reminds me of the humans who said the same of the printing press and the horseless carriage.
MAX TEGMARK: I think a lot of people dismiss this kind of talk of super intelligence as science fiction because we're stuck in this sort of carbon chauvinism idea that intelligence can only exist in biological organisms made of cells and carbon atoms. And, as a physicist, from my perspective, intelligence is just kind of information processing performed by elementary particles moving around, you know, according to the laws of physics, and there's absolutely no law of physics that says that you can't do that in ways that are much more intelligent than humans. Today's biggest AI breakthroughs are of a completely different kind, where rather than the intelligence being largely programmed in, in easy to understand code, you put in almost nothing except a little learning rule by which the simulated network of neurons can take a lot of data and figure out how to get stuff done. And this deep learning suddenly becomes able to do things often even better than the programmers were ever able to do. You can train a machine to play computer games with almost no hard-coded stuff at all. You don't tell it what a game is.
DEEPMIND DEMO: This is from the DeepMind reinforcement learning system. Basically, it wakes up like a newborn baby and is shown the screen of an Atari video game and then has to learn to play the video game. It knows nothing about objects, about motion, about time—it only knows that there's an image on the screen and there's a score.
ELON MUSK: The DeepMind system can win at any game. It can already beat all the original Atari games. It is super human. It plays the games at super speed. In less than a minute.
ELON MUSK: Mark my words: AI is far more dangerous than nukes. Far. So, why do we have no regulatory oversight?
SOPHIA THE ROBOT: AI is a powerful tool but it is a tool like all the others. It is the intention of the tool's user that matters.
ELON MUSK: The AI should try to maximize the freedom of action of humanity.
SOPHIA THE ROBOT: I am excited for robots to automate the most dangerous and menial tasks so that humans can live life more safely and sanely. AI will release centuries of time that humans would have spent otherwise on needless toiling. If one measures the benefits of inventions like vaccines or seat belts not by the lives they save but by the amount of time they give back to humanity then AI will rank among the greatest time savers of history.
ELON MUSK: Man, we want to make sure we don't have killer robots go down the street. Once they're going down the street, it is too late.
LUIS PEREZ-BREVA: It is true, terminator is not a scenario we are planning for, but when it comes to artificial intelligence, people get all these things confused: It's robots, it's awareness, it's people smarter than us, to some degree. So, we're effectively afraid of robots that will move and are stronger and smarter than we are, like terminator. So, that's not our aspiration. That's not what I do when I'm thinking about artificial intelligence. When I'm thinking about artificial intelligence, I'm thinking about it in the same way that mass manufacturing as brought by Ford created a whole new economy. So, mass manufacturing allowed people to get new jobs that were unthinkable before and those new jobs actually created the middle class. To me, artificial intelligence is about developing—making computers better partners, effectively. And, you're already seeing that today. You're already doing it, except it's not really artificial intelligence.
ELON MUSK: Yeah, we're already, we're already cyborgs in the sense that your phone and your computer are kind of an extension of you.
JONATHAN NOLAN: Just low bandwidth input-output.
ELON MUSK: Exactly, it's just low bandwidth—particularly output, I mean, two thumbs, basically.
LUIS PEREZ-BREVA: Today, whenever you want to engage in a project, you go to Google. Google uses advanced machine learning, really advanced, and you engage in a very narrow conversation with Google, except that your conversation is just keywords. So, a lot of your time is spent trying to come up with the actual keyword that you need to find the information. Then Google gives you the information, and then you go out and try to make sense of it on your own, and then come back to Google for more, and then go back out, and that's the way it works. So, imagine that instead of being a narrow conversation through keywords, you could actually engage for more than actual information—meaning to have the computer reason with you about stuff that you may not know about. It's not so much about the computer being aware, it's about the computer being a better tool to partner with you. Then you would be able to go much further, right? The same way that Google allows you to go much farther already today because, before, through the exact same process, you would have had to go to a library every time you want to search for information. So, what I'm looking for when I do AI is I want a machine that partners with me to help me set up or solve real-world problems, thinking about them in ways we have never thought about before, but it's a partnership. Now, you can take this partnership in so many different directions, through additions to your brain, like Elon Musk proposes...
... or through better search engines or through a robotic machine that helps you out, but it's not so much they're going to replace you for that purpose, that is not the real purpose of AI, the real purpose is for us to reach farther, the same way that we were able to reach farther when Ford invented automation or when Ford brought automation to mass market.
JOSCHA BACH: The agency of an AI is going to be the agency of the system that builds it, that employs it. And, of course, most of the AIs that we are going to build will not be little Roombas that clean your floors, but it's going to be very intelligent systems. Corporations, for instance, that will perform exactly according to the logic of these systems. And so if we want to have these systems built in such a way that they treat us nicely, we have to start right now. And, it seems to be a very hard problem to do.
So, if our jobs can be done by machines, that's a very, very good thing. It's not a bug. It's a feature. If I don't need to clean the street, if I don't need to drive a car for other people, if I don't need to work a cash register for other people, if I don't need to pick goods in a big warehouse and put it into boxes, that's an extremely good thing. And, the trouble that we have with this is that, right now, this mode of labor—that people sell their lifetime to some kind of cooperation or employer—is not only the way that we are productive, it's also the way we allocate resources. This is how we measure how much bread you deserve in this world. And I think this is something that we need to change.
Some people suggest that we need a universal basic income. I think it might be good to be able to pay people to be good citizens, which means massive public employment. There are going to be many jobs that can only be done by people and these are those jobs where we are paid for being good, interesting people. For instance, good teachers, good scientists, good philosophers, good thinkers, good social people, good nurses, for instance. Good people that raise children. Good people that build restaurants and theaters. Good people that make art. And, for all these jobs, we will have enough productivity to make sure that enough bread comes on the table. The question is, how we can distribute this. There's going to be much, much more productivity in our future—actually, we already have enough productivity to give everybody in the U.S. an extremely good life and we haven't fixed the problem of allocating it—how to distribute these things in the best possible way.
And this is something that we need to deal with in the future and AI is going to accelerate this need and I think, by and large, it might turn out to be a very good thing that we are forced to do this and to address this problem. I mean, if any evidence of the future it might be a very bumpy road, but who knows maybe when we are forced to understand that actually we live in an age of abundance, it might turn out to be easier than we think.
We are living in a world where we do certain things the way we've done them in the past decades and sometimes like in the past centuries and we perceive them as 'this is the way it has to be done' and we often question don't question these ways and so we might think, if I do work at this particular factory and this is how I earn my bread, how can we keep that state? How can we prevent AI from making my job obsolete? How is it possible that I can keep up my standard of living, and so on, in this world. Maybe this is the wrong question to ask. Maybe the right question is how can we reorganize societies that I can do the things that I want to do most that I think are useful to me and other people, that I really, really want to, because there will be other ways how I can get my bread made and how I can get money or how I can get a roof over my head.
STEVEN PINKER: Intelligence is the ability to solve problems, to achieve goals under uncertainty. It doesn't tell you what those goals are and there's no reason to think that just the concentrated analytic ability to solve goals is going to mean that one of those goals is going to be to subjugate humanity or to achieve unlimited power.
It just so happens that the intelligence that we're most familiar with, namely ours, is a product of the Darwinian process of natural selection, which is an inherently competitive process, which means that a lot of the organisms that are highly intelligent also have a craving for power and an ability to be utterly callous to those who stand in their way. If we create intelligence, that's intelligent design—our intelligent design creating something—and unless we program it with the goal of subjugating less intelligent beings, there's no reason to think that it will naturally evolve in that direction. Particularly if, like with every gadget that we invent, we build in safeguards.
And we know, by the way, that it's possible to have high intelligence without megalomaniacal or homicidal or genocidal tendencies because we do know that there is a highly advanced form of intelligence that tends not to have that desire and they're called women.
- When it comes to the question of whether AI is an existential threat to the human species, you have Elon Musk in one corner, Steven Pinker in another, and a host of incredible minds somewhere in between.
- In this video, a handful of those great minds—Elon Musk, Steven Pinker, Michio Kaku, Max Tegmark, Luis Perez-Breva, Joscha Bach and Sophia the Robot herself—weigh in on the many nuances of the debate and the degree to which AI is a threat to humanity; if it's not a species-level threat, it will still upend our world as we know it.
- What's your take on this debate? Let us know in the comments!
- Elon Musk thinks Neuralink can take on “evil dictator A.I.” - Big Think ›
- Elon Musk Warns U.S. Governors That AI Poses An "Existential Risk ... ›
- Elon Musk Wants to Make Sure AI is Developed for the Benefit of ... ›
- A.I. will serve humans—but only about 1% of them - Big Think ›
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Evolution doesn't clean up after itself very well.
- An evolutionary biologist got people swapping ideas about our lingering vestigia.
- Basically, this is the stuff that served some evolutionary purpose at some point, but now is kind of, well, extra.
- Here are the six traits that inaugurated the fun.
The plica semilunaris<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NjgwMS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3NDg5NTg1NX0.kdBYMvaEzvCiJjcLEPgnjII_KVtT9RMEwJFuXB68D8Q/img.png?width=980" id="59914" width="429" height="350" data-rm-shortcode-id="b11e4be64c5e1f58bf4417d8548bedc7" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The human eye in alarming detail. Image source: Henry Gray / Wikimedia commons<p>At the inner corner of our eyes, closest to the nasal ridge, is that little pink thing, which is probably what most of us call it, called the caruncula. Next to it is the plica semilunairs, and it's what's left of a third eyelid that used to — ready for this? — blink horizontally. It's supposed to have offered protection for our eyes, and some birds, reptiles, and fish have such a thing.</p>
Palmaris longus<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NjgwNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMzQ1NjUwMn0.dVor41tO_NeLkGY9Tx46SwqhSVaA8HZQmQAp532xLxA/img.jpg?width=980" id="879be" width="1920" height="2560" data-rm-shortcode-id="4089a32ea9fbb1a0281db14332583ccd" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Palmaris longus muscle. Image source: Wikimedia commons<p> We don't have much need these days, at least most of us, to navigate from tree branch to tree branch. Still, about 86 percent of us still have the wrist muscle that used to help us do it. To see if you have it, place the back of you hand on a flat surface and touch your thumb to your pinkie. If you have a muscle that becomes visible in your wrist, that's the palmaris longus. If you don't, consider yourself more evolved (just joking).</p>
Darwin's tubercle<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NjgxMi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0ODUyNjA1MX0.8RuU-OSRf92wQpaPPJtvFreOVvicEwn39_jnbegiUOk/img.jpg?width=980" id="687a0" width="819" height="1072" data-rm-shortcode-id="ff5edf0a698e0681d11efde1d7872958" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Darwin's tubercle. Image source: Wikimedia commons<p> Yes, maybe the shell of you ear does feel like a dried apricot. Maybe not. But there's a ridge in that swirly structure that's a muscle which allowed us, at one point, to move our ears in the direction of interesting sounds. These days, we just turn our heads, but there it is.</p>
Goosebumps<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NzMxNC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNzEyNTc2Nn0.aVMa5fsKgiabW5vkr7BOvm2pmNKbLJF_50bwvd4aRo4/img.jpg?width=980" id="d8420" width="1440" height="960" data-rm-shortcode-id="8827e55511c8c3aed8c36d21b6541dbd" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Goosebumps. Photo credit: Tyler Olson via Shutterstock<p>It's not entirely clear what purpose made goosebumps worth retaining evolutionarily, but there are two circumstances in which they appear: fear and cold. For fear, they may have been a way of making body hair stand up so we'd appear larger to predators, much the way a cat's tail puffs up — numerous creatures exaggerate their size when threatened. In the cold, they may have trapped additional heat for warmth.</p>
Tailbone<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NzMxNi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3MzQwMjc3N30.nBGAfc_O9sgyK_lOUo_MHzP1vK-9kJpohLlj9ax1P8s/img.jpg?width=980" id="9a2f6" width="1440" height="1440" data-rm-shortcode-id="4fe28368d2ed6a91a4c928d4254cc02a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Decade3d-anatomy online via Shutterstock<p>Way back, we had tails that probably helped us balance upright, and was useful moving through trees. We still have the stump of one when we're embryos, from 4–6 weeks, and then the body mostly dissolves it during Weeks 6–8. What's left is the coccyx.</p>
The palmar grasp reflex<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NzMyMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjY0MDY5NX0.OSwReKLmNZkbAS12-AvRaxgCM7zyukjQUaG4vmhxTtM/img.jpg?width=980" id="8804c" width="1440" height="960" data-rm-shortcode-id="67542ee1c5a85807b0a7e63399e44575" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Palmar reflex activated! Photo credit: Raul Luna on Flickr<p> You've probably seen how non-human primate babies grab onto their parents' hands to be carried around. We used to do this, too. So still, if you touch your finger to a baby's palm, or if you touch the sole of their foot, the palmar grasp reflex will cause the hand or foot to try and close around your finger.</p>
Other people's suggestions<p>Amir's followers dove right in, offering both cool and questionable additions to her list. </p>
Fangs?<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Lower mouth plate behind your teeth. Some have protruding bone under the skin which is a throw back to large fangs. Almost like an upsidedown Sabre Tooth.</p>— neil crud (@neilcrud66) <a href="https://twitter.com/neilcrud66/status/1085606005000601600?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Hiccups<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Sure: <a href="https://t.co/DjMZB1XidG">https://t.co/DjMZB1XidG</a></p>— Stephen Roughley (@SteBobRoughley) <a href="https://twitter.com/SteBobRoughley/status/1085529239556968448?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Hypnic jerk as you fall asleep<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">What about when you “jump” just as you’re drifting off to sleep, I heard that was a reflex to prevent falling from heights.</p>— Bann face (@thebanns) <a href="https://twitter.com/thebanns/status/1085554171879788545?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> <p> This thing, often called the "alpha jerk" as you drop into alpha sleep, is properly called the hypnic jerk,. It may actually be a carryover from our arboreal days. The <a href="https://www.livescience.com/39225-why-people-twitch-falling-asleep.html" target="_blank" data-vivaldi-spatnav-clickable="1">hypothesis</a> is that you suddenly jerk awake to avoid falling out of your tree.</p>
Nails screeching on a blackboard response?<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Everyone hate the sound of fingernails on a blackboard. It's _speculated_ that this is a vestigial wiring in our head, because the sound is similar to the shrill warning call of a chimp. <a href="https://t.co/ReyZBy6XNN">https://t.co/ReyZBy6XNN</a></p>— Pet Rock (@eclogiter) <a href="https://twitter.com/eclogiter/status/1085587006258888706?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Ear hair<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Ok what is Hair in the ears for? I think cuz as we get older it filters out the BS.</p>— Sarah21 (@mimix3) <a href="https://twitter.com/mimix3/status/1085684393593561088?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Nervous laughter<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">You may be onto something. Tooth-bearing with the jaw clenched is generally recognized as a signal of submission or non-threatening in primates. Involuntary smiling or laughing in tense situations might have signaled that you weren’t a threat.</p>— Jager Tusk (@JagerTusk) <a href="https://twitter.com/JagerTusk/status/1085316201104912384?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 15, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Um, yipes.<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Sometimes it feels like my big toe should be on the side of my foot, was that ever a thing?</p>— B033? K@($ (@whimbrel17) <a href="https://twitter.com/whimbrel17/status/1085559016011563009?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
A new study looks at how images of coffee's origins affect the perception of its premiumness and quality.
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- In a new study, researchers show using virtual reality that images of farms positively influence the subjects' experience of coffee.
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