News concerning Artificial Intelligence (AI) abounds again. The progress with Deep Learning techniques are quite remarkable with such demonstrations of self-driving cars, Watson on Jeopardy, and beating human Go players. This rate of progress has led some notable scientists and business people to warn about the potential dangers of AI as it approaches a human level. Exascale computers are being considered that would approach what many believe is this level. However, there are many questions yet unanswered on how the human brain works, and specifically the hard problem of consciousness with its integrated subjective experiences.
Machines turning on their creators has been a popular theme in books and movies for decades, but very serious people are starting to take the subject very seriously. Physicist Stephen Hawking says, "the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race." Tesla Motors and SpaceX founder Elon Musk suggests that AI is probably "our biggest existential threat." Artificial intelligence experts say there are good reasons to pay attention to the fears expressed by big minds like Hawking and Musk -- and to do something about it while there is still time. Hawking made his most recent comments at the beginning of December, in response to a question about an upgrade to the technology he uses to communicate, He relies on the device because he has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a degenerative disease that affects his ability to move and speak.
Use of artificial intelligence is growing and expanding into applications that impact people's lives. People trust their technology without really understanding it or its limitations. There is the potential for harm and we are already seeing examples of that in the world. AI researchers have an obligation to consider the impact of intelligent applications they work on. While the ethics of AI is not clear-cut, there are guidelines we can consider to minimize the harm we might introduce.
IBM is about to deliver the foundation of a brain-inspired supercomputer to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, one of the federal government's top research institutions. The delivery is one small "blade" within a server rack with 16 chips, dubbed TrueNorth, and is modeled after the way the human brain functions. Silicon Valley is awash in optimism about artificial intelligence, largely based on the progress that deep learning neural networks are making in solving big problems. Companies from Google to Nvidia are hoping they'll provide the AI smarts for self-driving cars and other tough problems. It is within this environment that IBM has been pursuing solutions in brain-inspired supercomputers.