“The development of artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race,” Stephen Hawking said recently.
Artificial Intelligence gave me pause when I first saw the movie 2001 Space Odyssey many years ago. It seemed to go under the radar for many years after that, except perhaps for Siri, and Watson winning at Jeopardy.
Now it guides missiles to targets, determining on its own whether a target is a vehicle filled with terrorists – or innocent school children. More commonly, AI performs so many everyday tasks that we don’t even realize that it’s there – everything from voice and face recognition, to online assistants, and conducting precision surgeries.
Most recently, after the tragedy in the French Alps, the idea – not new at all – that a jet airliner might be controlled from the ground has become a topic of debate. After all, we already control numerous unmanned aircraft over hostile areas each day.
But this same discussion brings to light the very challenge of technology and AI, in particular. Once we accept the benefits of this technology – and there are many – including being able to override a pilot intent on murder and suicide, we have to also acknowledge the dangers – and there are many.
Generally speaking, once we can control something remotely through technology – we are also vulnerable to others doing it – also known as hacking.
So if we can control our house lights and our refrigerators and ovens from miles away – so can someone else. If we view what is happening inside our homes while we’re away on vacation – so can a potential intruder. And, if the FAA is ever able to override an airliner’s controls from outside the cockpit – so can a sophisticated hacker sitting at a computer in . . . you name the country.
In the end, I suppose artificial intelligence is just like a lot of other advancements – it brings us incredible advantages – but there is always the danger, if not the likelihood, that its power will be put to the worst use by others.
In the case of 2001 Space Odyssey, the bad person turned out to be Hal, the AI computer that guided the astronauts to space – and then, decided that he wasn’t about to let himself – or itself – be disconnected. Hal took on, as they say, a life of his own. Maybe that’s what Stephen Hawking is worried about.