January 20, 2019

Artificial Intelligence Is a Threat to Humanity (Maybe)

“Stephen Hawking has said, “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” Elon Musk claims that AI is humanity’s “biggest existential threat.”

That might have people asking: Wait, what? But these grand worries are rooted in research. Along with Hawking and Musk, prominent figures at Oxford and UC Berkeley and many of the researchers working in AI today believe that advanced AI systems, if deployed carelessly, could end all life on earth.

This concern has been raised since the dawn of computing. But it has come into particular focus in recent years, as advances in machine-learning techniques have given us a more concrete understanding of what we can do with AI, what AI can do for (and to) us, and how much we still don’t know.

There are also skeptics. Some of them think advanced AI is so distant that there’s no point in thinking about it now. Others are worried that excessive hype about the power of their field might kill it prematurely. And even among the people who broadly agree that AI poses unique dangers, there are varying takes on what steps make the most sense today.

The conversation about AI is full of confusion, misinformation, and people talking past each other — in large part because we use the word “AI” to refer to so many things.”

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