Is artificial intelligence a threat to humankind?


Bangalore: We all love those sci-fi blockbusters such as "The Terminator" and "The Matrix" that have portrayed the dawn of artificial intelligence as a disaster for humankind. But what was once the realm of fiction has now become the subject of serious debate for researchers as AI is turning out to be a threat to humankind. Now, how much would you like the concept?Imagine a robot washing your cloths, preparing your food or even talking to you when you feel lonely - how nice! But what if the same robot turns into a machine that can kill autonomously and no one can stop it? This is what scientists are concerned about today. The fear is reasonable enough - further advances in AI could create profound social disruptions and even have dangerous end results.In the film "2001: A Space Odyssey", HAL, a computer took over the whole spaceship. In another film named "Eagle Eye", ARIIA, a supercomputer makes the lead character of the film indulge in unlawful activities. Although the scientists are of the opinion that we still have to go a long way to face such a situation, there are legitimate concerns that technological progress would make things happen pretty much the same way. And there will be a time when human will be forced to learn to live with machines that they themselves created once.

Another threat that researchers focus particular attention on is the possibility of criminals, exploiting artificial intelligence for their own purposes. Compared to human brains, it is far easier to modify a computer program. Think about some big AI software projects. Criminals could download them and with the help of hackers they can modify the source and build AIs to serve their destructive purpose.

It is not only about criminals, software bugs are also there which can be even more dangerous in terms of making AI a threat. There are a lot of security bug patches from big software providers these days. Just imagine an AI with a security hole allowing it to overcome the ethical programming constraints given by its creator. The AI could be detected, but stopping it could be equally difficult.

Someone may differ saying that AI is not a menace to the human society. They may say intelligent computers will be capable of thinking through the consequences of our actions and suggesting creative solutions to problems that are too complex for us to solve. But there counter-attacks from the other side saying what could a criminal do with a speech synthesis system that could masquerade as a human being? What happens if artificial intelligence technology is used to mine personal information from smartphones?

In order to discuss whether computers and robots might be able to acquire any sort of autonomy, and how much threat these abilities might pose, experts attended a conference in 2009 hosted by Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI). In the conference, scientist noted that some robots have acquired various forms of semi-autonomy that includes the ability to find power sources on their own and to independently choose targets to attack with weapons.

According to Vernor Vinge, a retired San Diego State University Professor of Mathematics, and computer scientist, and a science fiction author, the creation of superhuman intelligence would represent a breakdown in the ability of humans to model the future thereafter. He says that the time will come when computers will be "smarter" than humans. And at that point of time artificial intelligence will surely lead to some sort of human extinction by transhumanism. Can humanity survive long term in a world with AIs? A question that still remains unanswered.

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