Threats and Risks of Artificial Intelligence


We’ve seen science fiction movies like Terminator where robots go nutz and are exponentially more powerful than humans. These are cool to watch. They’re just science fiction though. It may seem somewhat silly to consider technologies like artificial intelligence or machine learning becoming as powerful or more powerful than human cognitive abilities. Researchers have been thinking about AI for years:

Many of the smartest people in the world are cautiously fearful of the power that artificial intelligence may bring as it becomes more and more developed. Below I’ve included some important resources for someone interested in impacting the future of AI in a positive way.

But first…

If you haven’t yet read the “Parable of Caution” where we included the Unfinished Fable of the Sparrows, that post is a necessary first read to understand the implications of artificial intelligence presented in analogical format.

And, this:

“Many experts believe that there is a significant chance that humanity will develop machines more intelligent than ourselves during the 21st century. This could lead to large, rapid improvements in human welfare, but there are good reasons to think that it could also lead to disastrous outcomes. The problem of how one might design a highly intelligent machine to pursue realistic human goals safely is very poorly understood. If AI research continues to advance without enough work going into the research problem of controlling such machines, catastrophic accidents are much more likely to occur. Despite growing recognition of this challenge, fewer than 100 people worldwide are directly working on the problem.” –

  • Tim Urban posted an important article on Wait But Why about the Road to Superintelligence.
  • The Great AI Awakening, an article published by the New York Times.
  • Deepmind, a company acquired by Google in 2014, is a world leader in artificial intelligence research and its application for positive impact.
    • The founders of Deepmind believe that AI will serve as a multiplier for human ingenuity, increasing our capacity to understand the mysteries of the universe and to tackle some of our most pressing real-world challenges
  • OpenAI is a non-profit AI research company founded by Elon Musk that seeks to discovering and enact the path to safe Artificial General Intelligence by influencing the conditions under which it is created.

    “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” – Alan Kay

  • The Machine Intelligence Research Institute at Berkeley is working on using mathematics to ensure smarter-than-human artificial intelligence has a positive impact.
  • The Center for Human-Compatible AI concisely brings up the problem of control with AI: “given that the solutions developed by such systems are intrinsically unpredictable by humans, it may occur that some such solutions result in negative and perhaps irreversible outcomes for humans.”
  • The Partnership on AI is an organization founded by partners from Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, IBM, Deepmind, and others. The partnership was established to study and formulate best practices on AI technologies, to advance the public’s understanding of AI, and to serve as an open platform for discussion and engagement about AI and its influences on people and society.

Additionally, there’s a short video depicting the Unfinished Fable of the Sparrows:

or you can read the story below if you prefer:

The Unfinished Fable of the Sparrows

It was the nest building season, but after days of long hard work, the sparrows sat in the evening glow, relaxing and chirping away.

“We are all so small and weak. Imagine how easy life would be if we had an owl who could help us build our nests!”

“Yes! said another. “And we could use it to look after our elderly and our young”.

“It could give us the advice and keep an eye out for the neighborhood cat,” added a third.

Then Pastus, the elder-bird, spoke: “Let us send out scouts in all directions and try to find an abandoned owlet somewhere, or maybe an egg. A crow chick might also do, or a baby weasel. This could be the best thing that ever happened to us, at least since the opening of the Pavilion of Unlimited Grain in yonder backyard.”

The flock was exhilarated, and sparrows everywhere started chirping at the top of their lungs.

Only Scronkfinkle, a one-eyed sparrow with a fretful temperament, was unconvinced of the wisdom of the endeavor. Quoth he: “This will surely be our undoing. Should we not give some thought to the art of owl-domestication and owl-taming first, before we bring such a creature into our midst?”

Replied Pastus: “Taming an owl sounds like an exceedingly difficult thing to do. It will be difficult enough to find an owl egg. So let us start there. After we have succeeded in raising an owl, then we can think about taking on this other challenge.”

“There is a flaw in that plan!” squeaked Scronkfinkle; but his protests were in vain as the flock had already lifted off to start implementing directives set out by Pastus.

Just two or three sparrows remained behind. Together they began to try to work out how owls might be tamed or domesticated. They soon realized that Pastus had been right: this was an exceedingly difficult challenge, especially in the absence of an actual owl to practice on. Nevertheless they pressed on as best they could, constantly fearing that the flock might return with an owl egg before a solution to the control problem had been found.

It is not known how the story ends, but the author dedicates this book to Scronkfinkle and his followers.

— Nick Bostrom in “Superintelligence

Well, what do you think? Should more effort be placed on helping Scronkfinkle figure out how to master the art of owl-taming and owl-domestication before trying to raise an owl on their own? Or, should more effort be placed on trying to find an owl egg and raise an owl? What are the dangers of raising an owl for the sparrows?

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