By Robert A. Vella
After the deadly crash of a self-driving car (i.e. a “semi-autonomous” vehicle) in 2017, I wrote some commentary on artificial intelligence based on my long career as a computer programmer in which I developed experimental A.I. systems. The two main points I presented were intended to dispel popular misconceptions and myths about the true nature of artificial intelligence:
- That the greatest advances in computer technology, by far, have been in processing speed, data storage, and interconnectivity.
- That what we refer to as “artificial intelligence” is more a product of this exponential increase in computer power and sophistication, and less a product of some digital mind creation as depicted in science fiction. Computers are not self-aware, and are not likely to be in the foreseeable future.
Last night on 60 Minutes, Scott Pelley interviewed Kai-Fu Lee – a venture capitalist, technology executive, writer, and artificial intelligence expert based in Beijing, China. Lee conveyed the same two points I had made in addition to several illuminating aspects of artificial intelligence and its future. This news magazine segment is quite fascinating, and I urge readers to watch it (it’s about 13 minutes long). From: Facial and emotional recognition; how one man is advancing artificial intelligence
Scott Pelley: I wonder, do you think people around the world have any idea what’s coming in artificial intelligence?
Kai-Fu Lee: I think most people have no idea, and many people have the wrong idea.
Scott Pelley: But you do believe it’s going to change the world?
Kai-Fu Lee: I believe it’s going to change the world more than anything in the history of mankind. More than electricity.
Lee is much more talkative about another threat posed by AI. He explores the coming destruction of jobs in a new book, “AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley and the New World Order.”
Kai-Fu Lee: AI will increasingly replace repetitive jobs. Not just for blue-collar work but a lot of white-collar work.
Scott Pelley: What sort of jobs would be lost to AI?
Kai-Fu Lee: Basically chauffeurs, truck drivers anyone who does driving for a living their jobs will be disrupted more in the 15 to 20 year time frame and many jobs that seem a little bit complex, chef, waiter, a lot of things will become automated we’ll have automated stores, automated restaurants, and all together in 15 years, that’s going to displace about 40 percent of the jobs in the world.
Scott Pelley: What does that do to the fabric of society?
Kai-Fu Lee: Well, in some sense there is the human wisdom that always overcomes these technology revolutions. The invention of the steam engine, the sewing machine, electricity, have all displaced jobs. And we’ve gotten over it. The challenge of AI is this 40 percent, whether it is 15 or 25 years, is coming faster than the previous revolutions.
There’s a lot of hype about artificial intelligence, and it’s important to understand this is not general intelligence like that of a human. This system can read faces and grade papers but it has no idea why these children are in this room or what the goal of education is. A typical AI system can do one thing well, but can’t adapt what it knows to any other task. So for now, it may be that calling this “intelligence,” isn’t very smart.
Scott Pelley: When will we know that a machine can actually think like a human?
Kai-Fu Lee: Back when I was a grad student, people said, “If machine can drive a car by itself, that’s intelligence.” Now we say that’s not enough. So, the bar keeps moving higher. I think that’s, I guess, more motivation for us to work harder. But if you’re talking about AGI, artificial general intelligence, I would say not within the next 30 years, and possibly never.
That computers are not self-aware, nor are likely to be in the foreseeable future, should alleviate paranoia about a robot revolution destroying humankind as depicted in numerous science fiction stories (e.g. Issac Asimov’s I, Robot). Conversely, it should instill apprehension about the technical limitations of artificial intelligence as well as the societal costs posed by automation. If A.I. will enrich clever entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, but will eliminate the economic livelihood of masses of people, then is it something we really should be doing so rapidly?
Addendum: This examination of artificial intelligence is based on current digital computer technology. Quantum computing offers far greater potential, but it is still in its infancy.