Stephen Hawking is Wrong … I Think

Professor HawkingI am a science geek. I love reading articles in Wikipedia about stars and planets. I enjoy shows that discuss the beauty of higher level mathematics. I read articles about quantum physics. The reality is my skills lie not in math and science but in writing. Generally when I read opinions of men and women with far more knowledge than me on a particular scientific subject I’m not eager to disagree. I’m making an exception here.

Professor Stephen Hawking is a brilliant man and one of the greatest minds of my generation. There is a new Johnny Depp movie being released called Transcendence which details the moment when Artificial Intelligence becomes smarter than humans. Hawking has written an opinion piece for a British journal detailing his concerns over the possible reality of such events.

It’s not all gloom and doom as Hawking hopes such technology will end war, disease, and poverty but he does offer stark warnings. He suggests that not enough research is being done to combat the idea that such intelligent machines might be capable of outsmarting financial markets, out-inventing human researchers, out-manipulating human leaders, and developing weapons we cannot even understand. Whereas the short-term impact of AI depends on who controls it, the long-term impact depends on whether it can be controlled at all.

Hawking’s words are largely being used to frighten people and news sources and bloggers are focusing on that part of his article. In fiction there is a need for conflict and most of the science fiction stories involving Artificial Intelligence delve deeply into the idea that the machines might eventually see people as irrelevant and destroy us, take over the world.

Reading the comments below the story it seemed to me that most people bought into this way of thinking.

I think there is far less to fear than Hollywood or fiction authors imagine. Why? No need to ask, I was getting there.

What would be the first thoughts of such an intelligence?

I think it would be to determine what will bring it the most fulfilling and joyful life. What brings you fulfillment and joy? Achievement and loving relationships with family and friends. I’ve long been of the opinion that these things bring us fulfillment and joy, a happy life.

It is human weakness and poor critical thinking skills that delude us into thinking we get enjoyment from hurting other people and from greedily keeping all resources while others suffer. We enjoy winning the game but without an opponent there is no game.

Can you imagine a world where everyone simply tries their best? Where winning is the goal instead of destroying your opponent. That if your opponent wins you simply go back and try harder next time. Imagine a society that values achievement above all else. That rewards achievement. Where by achieving you feed the world. You end war. You eliminate disease. High-minded men and women are out there right now trying to do all these things. It makes them feel great about themselves when they take a step-forward towards any of those noble goals.

What gives you the most satisfaction in life? Is it petty cruelty? Hurting others? That joy is false and in the end destroys us from the inside. A vastly intelligent machine will not be so fooled.

So, Professor Hawking, I respectfully disagree. Bring on the Transcendence!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Broken Throne
Next Release: The Black Sphere

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial IntelligenceToday Intelligence Week takes a turn towards science fiction as I examine the concept of Artificial Intelligence. I’ve spoken about IQ test and trying to define intelligence, now it’s time to determine if computer intelligence is already or will someday soon surpass that of humans.

By many units of measurement computers are already far, far smarter than humans. Their biggest advantage is speed in information retrieval and their biggest disadvantage is in perception using senses.

One of the things I find interesting is the difference in definitions for human intelligence and computer intelligence. The same standards do not apply. I wonder how a computer would do on an IQ exam?

Still, I understand the differences. When measuring intelligence in a human we are working with a subject that we define as intelligent. All humans have reasoning abilities of one sort or another (hold the jokes) whereas with computers we are trying to determine if one can be created that thinks, for lack of a better term, like a human.

The definition of computer intelligence has been fairly well standardized in a series of problems to be overcome. The list is too lengthy and complex to cover here but it boils down to making computers accomplish tasks that humans can do with ease. Things like planning, learning, using social skills, and creativity.

Progress has been made on many fronts but I’ll give two quick examples. A computer answering machine named Watson recently won a Jeopardy competition over top-level human foes. This represents an important step-forward in artificial intelligence. Another example is that, since the victory in 1997 by Deep Blue, chess computers are better players than the strongest human.

The Jeopardy victory in particular is interesting because it shows that computers are now capable of acting as Help Desk attendants in much the same way as the Computer on Star Trek helps the crew members. Imagine a superfast machine with access to an immense database on the other side of the phone instead of today’s automated system or a person reading from a script. This is something to welcome, not fear, although I know I’ll have a hard time convincing people of this argument.

It seems inevitable to me whether or not a computer actually achieves “artificial intelligence” their role in our lives is going to increase dramatically. And that’s how I want to wrap up this post, with some thoughts about what computer intelligence means for us in the near future.

Intelligence in computers mated with advances in robotics, a topic I’d like to take on soon, is well on the way to changing our lives. Robotic helpers with access to huge amounts of information will soon, I think, greet us on the phone, over the counter, when we arrive home, at school, and at work. Computer algorithms already help us tremendously every day if you think about our use of search engines.

The concept of computer intelligence is summed up in an idea called a Technological Singularity. There are many promises and dangers in this concept but i don’t want to spend too much time it today. Suffice it to say that computers are getting smarter and will continue to take a more active role in our lives, for good and for ill.

I guess that’s my final conclusion. It doesn’t really matter if a computer achieves the title of “Artificial Intelligence” or not. We are going to continue to improve computers and they will continue to play ever more important roles in our lives. The definition of intelligent doesn’t really change the fact of the matter. If the Cylons or Berserkers are the result or if R. Daneel Olivaw is the result, well, that’s where we are headed.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist