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Artificial Intelligence: What You Need to Know
Artificial intelligence, or AI, is shaping up to be one of the most important topics of our time. There’s no question that you’re going to hear a TON more about it in the coming years. But like many complicated topics, misunderstandings float around in the media, leaving people confused. What follows is my attempt to clarify and distill down the most important aspects of AI that the public needs to know.
1. Artificial intelligence is coming faster than you think.
When I was a kid back in the late '80s and early '90s, I remember thinking that "the future" was indeed a very far future — like hundreds of years away. Computers that talk and interact with us, or do our jobs for us, seemed like something I would only see in the movies.
But many technology experts across computer science, physics, philosophy and other fields believe that surprisingly smart AI lies just around the corner. In one survey of computer science researchers, most of them thought there was a good chance of "high-level machine intelligence" by the year 2050, and a decent chance it will come by 2024. (They define "high-level machine intelligence" as an AI system "that can carry out most human professions at least as well as a typical human.")
2. AI will make certain jobs obsolete.
From what I’ve read, this is the least debated prediction about AI. Even the most optimistic technology experts say that automation will inevitably eliminate certain jobs. This is because many simple and repetitive cognitive tasks can probably be done by software in the near future. Some professions currently on the chopping block: paralegal, medical technician, and many driving jobs — taxi, Uber, truck and delivery drivers.
3. Many experts think AI poses a threat to humanity itself.
This is where it gets trippy — and a little scary.
If AI keeps getting smarter, eventually it will surpass our own intelligence, and then what happens?
What concerns many experts, such as computer scientist Stuart Russell, is that AI could become so competent and powerful, that the slightest divergence between its goals and our own could be disastrous. The problem, Russell says, is that AI needs to be aligned with human values — at least as much as possible.
In other words, AI has to want what we want. Given that some experts think we might hit "high-level machine intelligence" by 2024, that doesn’t give us much time to sort this out.
4. Many others are optimistic about the future of AI.
Despite the risks, the possible benefits of increasingly intelligent AI are hard to deny.
In the long term, if progress moves in the right direction, AI could supercharge our scientific research, helping us cure diseases or engineer robots to serve human needs.
Mark Zuckerberg has spoken publicly about his sanguine vision of AI’s near-term future, in which it could be used to diagnose diseases more accurately or drive cars more safely than humans do.
And former Wired editor Kevin Kelly also pushes back against AI fears, arguing that a scary super human AI is unlikely anytime soon. Instead he sees AI becoming a widespread human-serving utility more like electricity.
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