Ex Machina/Universal

The next generation of robots probably won't want to kill us, say experts

The generation after is anyone's guess.

DAVID NIELD
2 DEC 2016
 

A team of artificial intelligence (AI) experts has found no evidence that AI poses an imminent threat to humanity, which should come as good news if you're feeling uneasy about the rapid advancements being made in robotics.

In fact, their report is pretty positive about everything AI-related, saying that within the next 15 years, the technology should be making all our lives better, particularly in the fields of transport, healthcare, education, and security.

 

The Artificial Intelligence and Life in 2030 paper is the first to be published by the AI100 project - an ongoing 100-year study led by Stanford University and a standing committee of AI specialists from across the world.

The report says that - for now, at least - AI doesn't have the capacity to plot world domination.

"No machines with self-sustaining long-term goals and intent have been developed, nor are they likely to be developed in the near future," the researchers write.

"Instead, increasingly useful applications of AI, with potentially profound positive impacts on our society and economy are likely to emerge between now and 2030."

So we're safe for now, then. But the report warns that AI will create "new challenges" for our society and economy, and that the right decisions need to be made to ensure everyone feels the benefit of smarter computing.

For the purposes of the report, the team imagined how artificial intelligence might transform an average North American city in 2030, as well as looking at where AI has brought us up to this point.

 

For most of us, autonomous transport and self-driving cars are likely to be the first area where we'll have to put our trust in AI, according to the report.

Transport is also one of the fields where there's been most progress in recent times, as shown in Tesla Motor's self-driving Autopilot system, which can already park itself and handle highway driving.

Predicting the future is notoriously tricky, and the report doesn't make too many grand assumptions about what we can expect in 2030, but it does say that AI is likely to make it easier for huge databases to be mined for insights in education, law enforcement, and healthcare.

It's in this background number-crunching and analysis that AI is going to have the most impact, according to the AI100 scientists - think computer systems that can recognise a human face instantly, or generate a series of automated test questions for thousands of students taking an online course.

The report is also clear that our attitude towards AI is going to go a long way towards shaping its development - if governments and citizens approach the technology positively, a more positive outcome is likely.

That means while AI will likely replace humans in some jobs, it could also create new roles, and offer new ways for societies to create wealth and leisure time.

"If society approaches these technologies primarily with fear and suspicion, missteps that slow AI’s development or drive it underground will result, impeding important work on ensuring the safety and reliability of AI technologies," the researchers write.

"On the other hand, if society approaches AI with a more open mind, the technologies emerging from the field could profoundly transform society for the better in the coming decades."

Those thoughts are in line with recent comments from none other than Stephen Hawking, who reckons that it's down to us whether AI turns out to be a force for good or bad.

According to one of the researchers, Peter Stone from the University of Texas, the usual depiction of AI in pop culture - think killer robots and hostile sentient systems - is something of a misconception, and one we might want to let go of. 

"Any technology has upsides and potential downsides and can be used by people in evil ways," he told Andy Meek at Fast Company. "On balance, I’m highly optimistic that artificial intelligence technologies are going to improve the world."

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