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‘Summoning the demon.’ ‘The new tools of our oppression.’ ‘Children playing with a bomb.’ These are just a few ways the world’s top researchers and industry leaders have described the threat that artificial intelligence poses to mankind. Will AI enhance our lives or completely upend them?

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There’s no way around it — artificial intelligence is changing human civilization, from how we work to how we travel to how we enforce laws. Science Technology breakthrough cool stuff programming robotic science technology software science technology cool stuff

As AI technology advances and seeps deeper into our daily lives, its potential to create dangerous situations is becoming more apparent. A Tesla Model 3 owner in California died while using the car’s Autopilot feature. In Arizona, a self-driving Uber vehicle hit and killed a pedestrian (though there was a driver behind the wheel). Science Technology breakthrough cool stuff programming robotic science technology software science technology cool stuff

Other instances have been more insidious. For example, when IBM’s Watson was tasked with helping physicians diagnose cancer patients, it gave numerous “unsafe and incorrect treatment recommendations.”

Some of the world’s top researchers and industry leaders believe these issues are just the tip of the iceberg. What if AI advances to the point where its creators can no longer control it? How might that redefine humanity’s place in the world? Science Technology breakthrough cool stuff programming robotic science technology software science technology cool stuff

Below, 50 experts weigh in on the threat that AI poses to the future of humanity, and what we can do to ensure that AI is an aid to the human race rather than a destructive force. Science Technology breakthrough cool stuff programming robotic science technology software science technology cool stuff

5. Nick Bilton

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AI WILL HAVE UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

Nick Bilton. (Om Malik)

Other experts fear the unintended results of AIs being given increasingly mission-critical tasks. Author and magazine journalist Nick Bilton worries that AI’s ruthless machine logic may inadvertently devise deadly “solutions” to genuinely urgent social problems:

“But the upheavals [of AI] can escalate quickly and become scarier and even cataclysmic. Imagine how a medical robot, originally programmed to rid cancer, could conclude that the best way to obliterate cancer is to exterminate humans who are genetically prone to the disease.”

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6. Nick Bostrom

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WE AREN’T READY FOR THE CHALLENGES POSED BY AI

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Nick Bostrom at the Future of Humanity Institute. (Future of Humanity Institute)

Academic researcher and writer Nick Bostrom, author of Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, shares Stephen Hawking’s belief that AI could rapidly outpace humanity’s ability to control it:

“Before the prospect of an intelligence explosion, we humans are like small children playing with a bomb. Such is the mismatch between the power of our plaything and the immaturity of our conduct. Superintelligence is a challenge for which we are not ready now and will not be ready for a long time. We have little idea when the detonation will occur, though if we hold the device to our ear we can hear a faint ticking sound. For a child with an undetonated bomb in its hands, a sensible thing to do would be to put it down gently, quickly back out of the room, and contact the nearest adult. Yet what we have here is not one child but many, each with access to an independent trigger mechanism. The chances that we will all find the sense to put down the dangerous stuff seem almost negligible. Some little idiot is bound to press the ignite button just to see what happens.”

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8. Jayshree Pandya

AUTONOMOUS WEAPONS SYSTEMS COULD DISRUPT POLITICAL STABILITY

Few applications of AI are as potentially dangerous as autonomous weapons systems. As DARPA and other defense agencies around the world explore how AI could shape the landscape of modern warfare, some experts are deeply concerned by the prospect of relinquishing control over devastating weaponry to neural networks. Science Technology breakthrough cool stuff programming robotic science technology software science technology cool stuff

Jayshree Pandya, founder and CEO of Risk Group LLC, is an expert in disruptive technologies, and she has warned of how AI-controlled weapons systems could pose an existential threat to world peace:

“Technological development has become a rat race. In the competition to lead the emerging technology race and the futuristic warfare battleground, artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly becoming the center of global power play. As seen across many nations, the development in autonomous weapons systems (AWS) is progressing rapidly, and this increase in the weaponization of artificial intelligence seems to have become a highly destabilizing development. It brings complex security challenges for not only each nation’s decision makers but also for the future of the humanity.”

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9. Bonnie Docherty

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KILLING MACHINES THAT LACK MORALITY

Some view the competition among software developers to create increasingly sophisticated AI as a contest eerily reminiscent of the Cold War era nuclear arms race.

Bonnie Docherty, associate director of Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection at the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, believes that we must stop the development of weaponized AI before it’s too late:

“If this type of technology is not stopped now, it will lead to an arms race. If one state develops it, then another state will develop it. And machines that lack morality and mortally should not be given power to kill.”

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10. Max Erik Tegmark

INFORMATION WARFARE WILL BE AN EVEN GREATER THREAT

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Technological advancements such as autonomous vehicles represent a paradigm shift in human society. According to Max Erik Tegmark, physicist and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, they also represent weaknesses that rogue actors will be able to exploit in future wars:

“The more automated society gets and the more powerful the attacking AI becomes, the more devastating cyberwarfare can be. If you can hack and crash your enemy’s self-driving cars, auto-piloted planes, nuclear reactors, industrial robots, communication systems, financial systems and power grids, then you can effectively crash his economy and cripple his defenses. If you can hack some of his weapons systems as well, even better.”

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