It was a rambling discussion in Shanghai last week that brought Artificial Intelligence into focus once again. In this case, it was the clearly jet-lagged Elon Musk, a technology legend and disruptor, and a very composed Jack Ma, the largest purveyor of goods over the internet. While the discussion rambled all over, from Pong to The Matrix to Mars, it was Musk shooting down Ma's optimism by saying that these could be "famous last words", that caught my attention. Musk has been consistently pessimistic about AI. In another famous joust, this time with Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, he tweeted that "his (Zuckerberg's) understanding of the subject is pretty limited".
The potential for AI to augment human behavior, or possibly even supplant humans entirely, is something that both fascinates and terrifies Elon Musk. In interviews over the years, Musk hasn't been shy about sharing his dystopian vision of a Terminator-like scenario where machines hunt down and destroy their creators. He has insisted that AI is a much greater risk to the US than North Korea. He even founded a company called Neuralink with the aim of linking human brains and computers - the only way for the human race to keep up with the onward march of AI, he insists. And given Musk's similarly well-documented hostility toward anybody who doubts or disagrees with him, it's hardly a surprise that the Tesla founder squared off with Alibaba founder Jack Ma at the World Artificial Intelligence Conference in Shanghai on Thursday.
File photo: Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk smiles as he attends a forum on startups in Hong Kong, China January 26, 2016. Despite Elon Musk's continued warnings, evil machines won't take over the world, two experts said this week. Artificial intelligence (AI) could be destined to turn against humanity, Musk has argued. The tech exec, who in addition to running high-profile companies such as Tesla and SpaceX, is a co-founder of OpenAI, a non-profit AI research company "discovering and enacting the path to safe artificial general intelligence." However, other executives in Silicon Valley have taken issue with Musk's comments, including the leader of Google's artificial intelligence efforts.
In his book The Singularity Is Near, American computer scientist Ray Kurzweil had predicted a decade ago that by 2045 non-biological intelligence will have exceeded biological intelligence on Earth due to exponential changes in infotech, biotech and nanotech. Basically, man and machine will become one. But Murray Shanahan, a London-based cognitive robotics professor, disagrees with Kurzweil's theory in his more recent book, Technological Singularity. "Kurzweil was very precise (about time)," Shanahan tells China Daily in an interview in Beijing. "Technological singularity has a very dramatic impact on humanity."
Over the course of a week in March, Lee Sedol, the world's best player of Go, played a series of five games against a computer program. The series, which the program AlphaGo won 4-1, took place in Seoul, while tens of millions watched live on internet feeds. Go, usually considered the most intellectually demanding of board games, originated in China but developed into its current form in Japan, enjoying a long golden age from the 17th to the 19th century. Famous contests from the period include the Blood Vomiting game, in which three moves of great subtlety were allegedly revealed to Honinbo Jowa by ghosts, enabling him to defeat his young protégé Intetsu Akaboshi, who after four days of continuous play collapsed and coughed up blood, dying of TB shortly afterwards. Another, the Ear Reddening game, turned on a move of such strength that it caused a discernible flow of blood to the ears of the master Inoue Genan Inseki. That move was, until 13 March this year, probably the most talked about move in the history of Go. That accolade probably now belongs to move 78 in the fourth game between Sedol and AlphaGo, a moment of apparently inexplicable intuition which gave Sedol his only victory in the series. The move, quickly named the Touch of God, has captured the attention not just of fans of Go but of anyone with an interest in what differentiates human from artificial intelligence.