Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Dr. Rich on "SkyNet"

Responding to my recent post, Sequestor schmquestor, Obama's building Skynet, our very own Dr. Rich has written a guest-post on the matter.  Let's take a look:

 "Recently, Jon blogged about the potential of the US government to build an artificial intelligence entity, much like the Skynet character from the Terminator series.  The James Cameron movie/TV/book franchise is only one of the most recent media depictions of man's creation of artificial intelligence, a tradition stretching back to Capek's famous "R.U.R" and, some might argue, even as far back as Shelley's Frankenstein.  Almost all of these stories share a common theme, the intelligent entity attaining true sentience, choosing to turn on humanity and take the world for their own.  While often serving as a morality tale, timely parable or bedtime horror story, the advent of AI would most likely not follow this popular literary theme.

The steady increase in compute capability, plus advances in the understanding of neuroscience, make it nearly inevitable that at some point, a government or corporation will develop a computer network capable of matching human intelligence.  The first people to control such a technology will have a strategic advantage, either in the political or economic arena, or both.  Looking at past breakthrough discoveries however, it is unlikely that any one body will be able to maintain a monopoly on AI for very long.  The US was able to harness the power of the atom first, but soon was joined by the British, French, Soviets and Chinese in a deadly scramble for nuclear superiority.  Sixty seven years after the Manhattan project ended, global powers are scrambling to prevent smaller nations from joining the nuclear club.  The space race, once the domain of the two superpowers, now has moved to the private sector, with topics such as asteroid mining and property rights in space garnering legitimate debate in the world's capitols.

Advances in AI technology will almost certainly be experienced in parallel among various government and private research centers.  I am making a distinction between Artificial Intelligence and Artificial Sentience, however.  Governments and corporations can make many uses of an intelligent system, but would likely see free will and the ability to choose not to perform the task one was designed for, or choose a divergent agenda, as an undesirable feature.  Even if sentience emerges as an unintended side-effect, and the ability to choose can't effectively be purged from the most advanced of AI systems, be assured that AI-based propaganda machines will be running 24/7 to keep the Artificial Sentient machines marching to the "correct" drumbeat and "choosing wisely".

What will conflict in a late 21st century world look like?  Highly secure datacenters running the most advanced Artificial Sentient generals directing groups of Artificial Intelligent lieutenants, each AI controlling battalions and divisions of drone tanks, planes and ships against similarly automated armies.  Humans and Sentient machines waging almost daily cyber warfare across the Internet, attacking and defending infrastructure, industry, financial institutions and other resources.  Intelligence agencies across the globe supplementing human data gathering with AI data mining to perform espionage on foreign targets, and suppress internal dissent.  Future revolutionaries, terrorists and activists, armed with either black market AI, borrowed or "acquired" compute capability, or technology "donated" from a sympathetic remote benefactor, seeking to disrupt and destabilize the status quo and topple established regimes.  In short, the same people that are using today's technology will be harnessing tomorrow's in similar ways, for similar reasons, to attain similar goals.  All that, however, is only half the story.

The uses of AI, like all other technologies, will only be limited by the imagination and choices of the people who wield it.  All technology we have is used for good and evil, they are used to help and harm, improve the lives of some, diminish the lives of others.  There is no reason to believe that any new technology will be any different from old technology.  Artificially intelligent and sentient machines will be our closest allies and deadliest enemies.  They will be our co-workers, competitors, customers and companions.  They will be as diverse as the people who create them and evolve alongside us.  As with all other technologies, humans will have to choose when to use them, how to use them and when to not use them.

The dawn of the AI age will not be a monolithic "man vs machine" future.  It will be "man and machine vs man and machine".  Our future looks more like the one created by George Lucas in the Star Wars prequels (but with much better acting) than it does in anything James Cameron envisioned." 

Thoughts, anyone?

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