Is artificial intelligence dangerous?

People like Stephen Hawking and Bill Gates consider uncontrolled AI more dangerous than global warming, unless it can share human values.

By Béla Lipták, PE, Control consultant

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I'm breaking the traditions of scientific articles by writing about issues that go beyond science. The tradition of engineering articles is to present material that the author is fairly sure of, but when I write about artificial and super intelligence here, I'm in uncharted territory.

The past

Automation opened a new chapter in human evolution, because while it started out as just another tool to make our lives easier, through the development of robots, instant communication and artificial intelligence (AI), it is becoming much more. This can be a great achievement, but can also become a slippery slope for human civilization.

Throughout the ages, humanity was not only struggling for survival, but was also struggling to understand the universe and its purpose. This search used two roads, the spiritual and the scientific. Those on the spiritual road assumed that understanding the universe is beyond the abilities of humans, while the ones on the road of science decided to try it anyway. Scientists focused on learning the laws guiding the universe and thereby learning something about its Creator.

The ones traveling on this second road included Aristotle, Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Einstein, and now people like Stephen Hawking. It matters little if Galileo discovered gravity because an apple fell on his head or because he climbed the leaning tower of Pizza and noticed that bodies of different weights increased their velocity at the same rate. It matters little how the the existence of relativity, black holes or the continuous expansion of the universe was proved. What matters is that by proving them, we have shown an ability to understand some of the laws that give order to the universe.

If we see a painting, we know that there was a painter who created it. Some might argue that the existence of the universe proves that it, too, had a Creator. We have to study the painting to learn something about the painter, and over the millennia, we have also studied and gained a bit of understanding of the universe through science. Over this same period, some have also developed the view that the spiritual and the scientific roads lead to different conclusions—that they do not merge, but contradict each other.

Making the Industrial Internet of Things real

Well, it seems that they were wrong. Today it is science that has proven that neither time, nor space existed before what we call the Big Bang, and just as Newton's apple and Einstein's relativity represented a quantum leap in our understanding of the universe, the Big Bang proves that the spiritual and the scientific roads can merge.

Automation, robots and AI

So what has all this to do with automation? Well, we might not realize it, but automation opened a new age for mankind. First it was just a tool that served our comfort as it substituted for our muscles, and later, for the routine functions of our brain, but today we're beginning to realize that we've "created" something much more. When we designed the first gadgets that made industry safer and more efficient, we didn't realize where it would lead. Next, we designed smart instruments, so they'd self-diagnose if there was something wrong. This road eventually led to robots, and today we're beginning to realize these human creations are more than mechanical slaves.

First, we believed robots are good because they can do things that are boring or they can do things better and faster. Later, we realized that they can also go to places that are inhospitable for us to visit, such as Mars or war zones. And now, we're beginning to realize that AI can also change our life styles. Today, when our AI-brained robots can not only build cars, but can also drive them, we begin to ask, will this creation of ours make its creator unnecessary? And by this I do not only mean that they can create unemployment.

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