I am a great admirer of both Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk. That is one reason why the social media debate last week between them concerning artificial intelligence, a subject also near and dear, caused such dissonance. How could they disagree on such an important subject? This blog will lay out the “great debate.”
It is far from a private argument between Elon and Mark. It is a debate that percolates throughout scientific and technological communities concerned with AI. My sister AI-Ethics.com web begins with this debate. If you have not already visited this web, I hope you will do so after reading this blog. It begins by this same debate review. You will also see at AI-Ethics.com that I am seeking volunteers to help: (1) prepare a scholarly article on the AI Ethics Principles already created by other groups; and, (2) research the viability of sponsoring an interdisciplinary conference on AI Principles. For more background on these topics see the library of suggested videos found at AI-Ethics Videos. They provide interesting, easy to follow (for the most part), reliable information on artificial intelligence. This is something that everybody should know at least something about if they want to keep up with ever advancing technology. It is a key topic.
The Debate Centers on AI’s Potential for Superintelligence
The debate arises out of an underlying agreement that artificial intelligence has the potential to become smarter than we are, superintelligent. Most experts agree that super-evolved AI could become a great liberator of mankind that solves all problems, cures all diseases, extends life indefinitely and frees us from drudgery. Then out of that common ebullient hope arises a small group that also sees a potential dystopia. These utopia party-poopers fear that a super-evolved AI could doom us all to extinction, that is, unless we are not careful. So both sides of the future prediction scenarios agree that many good things are possible, but, one side insists that some very bad things are also possible, that the dark side risks even include extinction of the human species.
The doomsday scenarios are a concern to some of the smartest people alive today, including Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and Bill Gates. They fear that superintelligent AIs could run amuck without appropriate safeguards. As stated, other very smart people strongly disagree with all doomsday fears, including Mark Zuckerberg.
Mark Zuckerberg’s company, Facebook, is a leading researcher in the field of general AI. In a backyard video that Zuckerberg made live on Facebook on July 24, 2017, with six million of his friends watching on, Mark responded to a question from one: “I watched a recent interview with Elon Musk and his largest fear for future was AI. What are your thoughts on AI and how it could affect the world?”
Zuckerberg responded by saying:
I have pretty strong opinions on this. I am optimistic. I think you can build things and the world gets better. But with AI especially, I am really optimistic. And I think people who are naysayers and try to drum up these doomsday scenarios — I just, I don’t understand it. It’s really negative and in some ways I actually think it is pretty irresponsible.
In the next five to 10 years, AI is going to deliver so many improvements in the quality of our lives.
Zuckerberg said AI is already helping diagnose diseases and that the AI in self-driving cars will be a dramatic improvement that saves many lives. Zuckerberg elaborated on his statement as to naysayers like Musk being irresponsible.
Whenever I hear people saying AI is going to hurt people in the future, I think yeah, you know, technology can generally always be used for good and bad, and you need to be careful about how you build it and you need to be careful about what you build and how it is going to be used.
But people who are arguing for slowing down the process of building AI, I just find that really questionable. I have a hard time wrapping my head around that.
Mark’s position is understandable when you consider his Hacker Way philosophy where Fast and Constant Improvements are fundamental ideas. He did, however, call Elon Musk “pretty irresponsible” for pushing AI regulations. That prompted a fast response from Elon the next day on Twitter. He responded to a question he received from one of his followers about Mark’s comment and said: I’ve talked to Mark about this. His understanding of the subject is limited. Elon Musk has been thinking and speaking up about this topic for many years. Elon also praises AI, but thinks that we need to be careful and consider regulations.
The Great AI Debate
In 2014 Elon Musk referred to developing general AI as summoning the demon. He is not alone in worrying about advanced AI. See eg. Open-AI.com and CSER.org. Steven Hawking, usually considered the greatest genius of our time, has also commented on the potential danger of AI on several occasions. In speech he gave in 2016 at Cambridge marking the opening of the Center for the Future of Intelligence, Hawking said: “In short, the rise of powerful AI will be either the best, or the worst thing, ever to happen to humanity. We do not yet know which.” Here is Hawking’s full five minute talk on video:
Elon Musk warned state governors on July 15, 2017 at the National Governors Association Conference about the dangers of unregulated Artificial Intelligence. Musk is very concerned about any advanced AI that does not have some kind of ethics programmed into its DNA. Musk said that “AI is a fundamental existential risk for human civilization, and I don’t think people fully appreciate that.” He went on to urge the governors to begin investigating AI regulation now: “AI is a rare case where we need to be proactive about regulation instead of reactive. Because I think by the time we are reactive in AI regulation, it’s too late.”
Bill Gates agrees. He said back in January 2015 that
I am in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence. First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that though the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern. I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don’t understand why some people are not concerned.
Elon Musk and Bill Gates spoke together on the Dangers of Artificial Intelligence at an event in China in 2015. Elon compared work on the AI to work on nuclear energy and said it was just as dangerous as nuclear weapons. He said the right emphasis should be on AI safety, that we should not be rushing into something that we don’t understand. Statements like that makes us wonder what Elon Musk knows that Mark Zuckerberg does not?
Bill Gates at the China event responded by agreeing with Musk. Bill also has some amusing, interesting statements about human wet-ware, our slow brain algorithms. He spoke of our unique human ability to take experience and turn it into knowledge. See: Examining the 12 Predictions Made in 2015 in “Information → Knowledge → Wisdom. Bill Gates thinks that as soon as machines gain this ability, they will almost immediately move beyond the human level of intelligence. They will read all the books and articles online, maybe also all social media and private mail. Bill has no patience for skeptics of the inherent danger of AI: How can they not see what a huge challenge this is?
Gates, Musk and Hawking are all concerned that a Super-AI using computer connections, including the Internet, could take actions of all kinds, both global and micro. Without proper standards and safeguards they could modify conditions and connections before we even knew what they were doing. We would not have time to react, nor the ability to react, unless certain basic protections are hardwired into the AI, both in silicon form and electronic algorithms. They all urge us to take action now, rather than wait and react.
To close out the argument for those who fear advanced AI and urge regulators to start thinking about how to restrain it now, consider the Ted Talk by Sam Harris on October 19, 2016, Can we build AI without losing control over it? Sam, a neuroscientist and writer, has some interesting ideas on this.
On the other side of the debate you will find most, but not all, mainstream AI researchers. You will also find many technology luminaries, such as Mark Zuckerberg and Ray Kurzweil. They think that the doomsday concerns are pretty irresponsible. Oren Etzioni, No, the Experts Don’t Think Superintelligent AI is a Threat to Humanity (MIT Technology Review, 9/20/16); Ben Sullivan, Elite Scientists Have Told the Pentagon That AI Won’t Threaten Humanity (Motherboard 1/19/17).
You also have famous AI scholars and researchers like Pedro Domingos who are skeptical of all superintelligence fears, even of AI ethics in general. Domingos stepped into the Zuckerberg v. Musk social media dispute by siding with Zuckerberg. He told Wired on July 17, 2017 that:
Many of us have tried to educate him (meaning Musk) and others like him about real vs. imaginary dangers of AI, but apparently none of it has made a dent.
Tom Simonite, Elon Musk’s Freak-Out Over Killer Robots Distracts from Our Real AI Problems, (Wired, 7/17/17).
Domingos also famously said in his book, The Master Algorithm: How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine Will Remake Our World, a book which we recommend:
People worry that computers will get too smart and take over the world, but the real problem is that they’re too stupid and they’ve already taken over the world.
But Domingos says that when it comes to the ethics of artificial intelligence, it’s very simple. “Machines are not independent agents—a machine is an extension of its owner—therefore, whatever ethical rules of behavior I should follow as a human, the machine should do the same. If we keep this firmly in mind,” he says, “a lot of things become simplified and a lot of confusion goes away.” …
It’s only simple so far as the ethical spectrum remains incredibly complex, and, as Domingos will be first to admit, everybody doesn’t have the same ethics.
“One of the things that is starting to worry me today is that technologists like me are starting to think it’s their job to be programming ethics into computers, but I don’t think that’s our job, because there isn’t one ethics,” Domingos says. “My job isn’t to program my ethics into your computer; it’s to make it easy for you to program your ethics into your computer without being a programmer.”
We agree with that too. No one wants technologists alone to be deciding ethics for the world. This needs to be a group effort, involving all disciplines, all people. It requires full dialogue on social policy, ultimately leading to legal codifications.
The Wired article of Jul 17, 2017, also states Domingos thought it would be better not to focus on far-out superintelligence concerns, but instead:
America’s governmental chief executives would be better advised to consider the negative effects of today’s limited AI, such as how it is giving disproportionate market power to a few large tech companies.
The same Wired article states that Iyad Rahwan, who works on AI and society at MIT, doesn’t deny that Musk’s nightmare scenarios could eventually happen, but says attending to today’s AI challenges is the most pragmatic way to prepare. “By focusing on the short-term questions, we can scaffold a regulatory architecture that might help with the more unpredictable, super-intelligent AI scenarios.” We agree, but are also inclined to think we should at least try to do both at the same time. What if Musk, Gates and Hawking are right?
The Wired article also quotes, Ryan Callo, a Law Professor at the University of Washington, as saying in response to the Zuckerberg v Musk debate:
Artificial intelligence is something policy makers should pay attention to, but focusing on the existential threat is doubly distracting from it’s potential for good and the real-world problems it’s creating today and in the near term.
Simonite, Elon Musk’s Freak-Out Over Killer Robots Distracts from Our Real AI Problems, (Wired, 7/17/17).
But how far-out from the present is superintelligence? For a very pro-AI view, one this is not concerned with doomsday scenarios, consider the ideas of Ray Kurzweil, Google’s Director of Engineering. Kurzweil thinks that AI will attain human level intelligence by 2019, but will then mosey along and not attain super-intelligence, which he calls the Singularity, until 2045.
2029 is the consistent date I have predicted for when an AI will pass a valid Turing test and therefore achieve human levels of intelligence. I have set the date 2045 for the ‘Singularity’ which is when we will multiply our effective intelligence a billion fold by merging with the intelligence we have created.
Kurzweil is not worried about the impact of super-intelligent AI. To the contrary, he looks forward to the Singularity and urges us to get ready to merge with the super-AIs when this happens. He looks at AI super-intelligence as an opportunity for human augmentation and immortality. Here is a video interview in February 2017 where Kurzweil responds to fears by Hawking, Gates, and Musk about the rise of strong A.I.
Note Ray conceded the concerns are valid, but thinks they miss the point that AI will be us, not them, that humans will enhance themselves to super-intelligence level by integrating with AI – the Borg approach (our words, not his).
Getting back to the more mainstream defenses of super-intelligent AI, consider Oren Etzioni’s Ted Talk on this topic.
Oren Etzioni thinks AI has gotten a bad rap and is not an existential threat to the human race. As the video shows, however, even Etzioni is concerned about autonomous weapons and immediate economic impacts. He invited everyone to join him and advocate for the responsible use of AI.
The responsible use of AI is a common ground that we can all agree upon. We can build upon and explore that ground with others at many venues, including the new one I am trying to put together at AI-Ethics.com. Write me if you would like to be a part of that effort. Our first two projects are: (1) to research and prepare a scholarly paper of the many principles proposed for AI Ethics by other groups; and (2) put on a conference dedicated to dialogue on AI Ethics principles, not a debate. See AI-Ethics.com for more information on these two projects. Ultimately we hope to mediate model recommendations for consideration by other groups and regulatory bodies.
AI-Ethics.com is looking forward to working with non-lawyer technologists, scientists and others interested in AI ethics. We believe that success in this field depends on diversity. It has to be very interdisciplinary to succeed. Lawyers should be included in this work, but we should remain a minority. Diversity is key here. We will even allows AIs, but first they must pass a little test you may have heard of. When it comes to something as important all this, all faces should be in the book, including all colors, races, sexes, nationalities, education, from all interested companies, institutions, foundations, governments, agencies, firms and teaching institutions around the globe. This is a human effort for a good AI future.