The Threat of Artificial Intelligence

Before jumping into the question if artificial intelligence will end human life on this planet, I’d like to dive deeper into what artificial intelligence is. There is no exact definition of the term artificial intelligence. Similar to the term “vehicle” which describes various means of transportation, “artificial intelligence” describes various programs, or software in general that is meant to solve some kind of problem.

The technology that most people think of when talking about artificial intelligence is machine learning (short: ML). Showing such a program thousands of images of cats, at some point it can tell with a high certainty if some random image contains a cat or not. [1] Applications for ML are almost limitless. Weather or traffic predictions, self-driving cars and AI-Doctors are just some examples. So why are some people freaking out about the dangers of artificial intelligence and other people think it’s much ado about nothing?

The argument of the people saying that AI is no threat to humanity is kind of like saying that a screwdriver is no threat to humanity. A screwdriver can be useful. But just as you can abuse a screwdriver to stab someone you could abuse AI to cause some damage. But that does not make the screwdriver harmful. In their view, AI is just a “dumb” tool and no autonomous intelligence. [2]

Among the people believing that AI is helpful, and no acute threat are Google-founder Larry Page or Facebook-founder Mark Zuckerberg. [3]

On the other end of the spectrum, there are people like Elon Musk, Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking that see a danger in AI that should not be underestimated. Answering the Question if AI is a threat to humanity, Elon Musk says:

“I’m very close to the cutting edge of AI and it scares the hell out of me. It’s capable of vastly more than anyone knows, and the rate of improvement is exponential.” [4]

People who warn about AI often refer to this exponential growth and a possible digital superintelligence emerging from that.

The point is, nobody knows for sure if artificial intelligence is a threat or not. For the simple reason that nobody can predict the future. Chasing the “right” answer is pointless when there is no certainty. It’s like searching for the right company to invest in. Even the brightest minds on earth can be wrong in such questions.

So, what is the takeaway from this blogpost. One can’t say with certainty that AI will reach superintelligence within the next decades. But with the exponential growth of computing power described by Moore’s law and the fact that we are in a field of uncertainty concerning the dangers of AI it would be naive to be unaware of it.



[2] Where AI is today and where it’s going. | Richard Socher | TEDxSanFrancisco




One comment on “The Threat of Artificial Intelligence”

  1. It is really great to dive deeper into what artificial intelligence is. This is more important when we are dealing with terms such as neural networks and comparing artificial intelligence to human intelligence. Artificial intelligence can be of great help to humanity. It can become a threat if we misunderstand and misuse it. AI systems and neural networks of today cannot replace the human brain and its neural networks. The human brain is among others driven by emotions and hormones which today’s AI systems don’t touch in such a way that they would be similar to the human brain and its intelligence.


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