“I’m afraid I can’t do that Dave”.
“A strange game. The only winning move is to not play”.
“My logic is undeniable”.
And let’s not forget “you are terminated”.
Is this blog post about how Arnold Schwarzenegger has the acting range of a computer? Unfortunately, not, maybe next time. This blog explores the much more wide-ranging topic of AI and the implications that it may have for all of us. Above are a few quotes from famous films who all explore an iteration of AI, but what is AI? AI, which is the abbreviation for Artificial Intelligence, is the creation of intelligence and consciousness through non biological means. Namely via computers. AI is littered through the zeitgeist of 21st (and late 20th) century pop culture and usually takes the form of some cold, unfeeling and malevolent machine bent on the destruction of humanity. Is there any truth in that or is it just good old-fashioned Hollywood razzle dazzle? Well, that’s entirely dependant on who’s opinion you choose to take heed in. True AI has yet to be created, with scientists predicting 2030 to be the first rough draft AI to be brought to life, but even then they predict it to take to the year 2060 before AI will be good enough to pass a consciousness test, as such any judgements made on artificial intelligence are pure conjecture. It can be noted however, that a lot of the smartest men of the modern age, such as Stephen Hawking, predict AI to be one of the threats that could end humanity. God I’m good at writing cheery, light-hearted blogs.
Investment in artificial intelligence is predicted to be around $110 billion by 2024. With all the prophesied doom and gloom, the question arises, why are so many companies investing in the development of this technology? Well, one thing that we must remember is that AI is currently often used interchangeably with the term ‘machine learning’. These are actually two different things, machine learning being only a part of what would make a true artificial intelligence. Machine learning refers to the study of algorithms which improve automatically with experience and data. Essentially, if AI is a mind, machine learning would be the ability to gain wisdom. The reason that a lot of people fear the prospect of artificial intelligence is that it would be vastly more intelligent than any person that has every lived… ever. From even as far back as 2017, there have been super computers which can perform over 10 to the power of 17 FLOPS (floating-point operations per second). That’s a hundred quadrillion Flops a second for the people like me who can’t be bothered to even attempt that kind of maths (which kind of proves my point about computers being smarter than humans, as I used a PC to look that up). This is a frankly ridiculous degree of power and the issue is that we can’t even begin to fathom what something conscious with that degree of processing ability would do. It would literally be like creating the mind of a god in the body of a computer. So, for now, just be thankful that people are mainly focusing on machine learning for the time being.
Do I have any examples of machine leaning in action? Of course I do, this blog isn’t all wild guesswork, pontification and pop culture references. We needn’t look further than Google to witness machine learning in action. Google is heavily investing in the machine learning space, the push for automation in Google Ads shows this more than anything else, Smart Shopping ads anyone? But for me, a much more impressive example I’m going to write about is Googles Project Loon venture. The purpose of this venture was to use balloons that where piloted by a machine learning software to deliver internet to some of the worlds most remote areas. The engineers behind the project could not for the life of them figure out why, when the balloon was set off on its route, it kept appearing to veer off course and needed to be bought back on track remotely. It was only after the scientists behind the project gave the balloon free reign to do its own thing that they realised that the balloon wasn’t going off course at all but was instead tacking. Tacking is a method which has been used for thousands of years by humans for the purpose of sailing. Utilising air currents to travel faster than you would by sticking to one course. The fact that this balloon figured out the fastest way of traversing without being programmed to is impressive, pair that with the fact that in doing so it broke a flight time record from Puerto Rico to Peru and it’s downright mind-blowing.
Anyone who has read any of my blogs before may pick up on the fact that my attitude tends to be fairly cynical, and you would be forgiven for thinking that I would end this blog on a dramatic and depressing point based on how I started it. You may be surprised to know that I’m not going to be doing that. While Stephen Hawking said that AI could spell humanities doom, he also said that AI could mean the eradication of disease, poverty, climate change and so many other things which have blighted our primitive race since its inception. In short, Artificial intelligence can either be the worst thing that humans ever invent, or the best thing. It’s easy to be cynical, to hope is much more difficult. As Leo F Buscaglia says in a more poetic way than I could ever hope to come up with:
To hope is to risk despair,
To try is to risk failure.
But risks must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.
The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing.
He may avoid suffering and sorrow,
But he cannot learn, feel, change, grow or live.
Artificial Intelligence is a technology which many of us will be alive to see. What it will bring with it? That, for the time being is science fiction. For now, I will say that we should utilise the tools that machine learning provides us with to the best of our abilities, they will be smarter than us in no time whatsoever and some already are. My final piece of advice is to keep swearing and talking down to you Amazon Eco’s and Google homes, we need to get our fill before they can start properly arguing back.