If recent headlines are anything to go by, opinion on the likelihood – and impact – of the ‘Technological Singularity’ is diverging rapidly. Is this largely because we don’t even agree on what it is?
‘Artificial Intelligence’ (AI) is certainly in the news at lot at the moment. But so are robots; and Kurzweil’s Singularity; and machine evolution; and transhumanism. Are these the same thing? Are they even related? If so, how? What exactly should we be arguing about? Are we worried precisely because we don’t know this stuff?
Well, perhaps to make a start, we should point out that intelligence isn’t the same thing as evolution (in any sense). That’s obvious and accepted for ‘conventional’ life-on-earth but we seem to be getting a bit confused between the two when it comes to machines. Developments in both may proceed in parallel and one may eventually lead to the other (although which way round is debatable) but they’re not the same thing.
(The second of two posts distilled from a talk given at the 2011 Wrexham Science Festival. The first part, ‘The Singularity is Coming … Or Is It?‘, appears separately. However, both have a common thread and share some material.)
It seems that the next few decades may give us something really remarkable: truly intelligent computers; that, before the 21st century is a half, maybe a third, old, we could be living with machines capable of genuine, independent thought. Apparently, this is not science fiction or the ‘artificial intelligence’ of the 20th century but real intelligence. So many questions … Can that really happen? Will it? How? What does it mean? What will that world be like? What do we have to look forward to? Or to fear? How do we get from here to there … and do we want to? How does today’s AI technology develop into tomorrow’s thinking machine? What will we do with it when we’ve got it? What happens if we get it wrong? Can we ultimately build something ‘better’ than us? Will we be served by teams of intelligent robots or is there a risk that we could end up serving them? Or, as we and the machines both evolve, will the ‘natural’ distinction between human and computer eventually become blurred and ultimately unimportant? Pause for breath … Continue reading