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Human Compatible

Artificial Intelligence and the Problem of Control

By Stuart Russell
12-minute read
Audio available
Human Compatible by Stuart Russell

Human Compatible (2019) explains why the creation of a superintelligent artificial intelligence could be humanity’s final act. The blinks call to attention the potential catastrophe that humanity is heading towards, and discuss what needs to be done to avoid it. If we’re to ensure AI remains beneficial to humans in the long run, we may need to radically rethink its design.

  • AI specialists who could benefit from a new approach to AI design
  • Students of AI looking for an overview of its key problems
  • Anyone concerned about how AI is likely to transform society in the near future

Stuart Russell is a professor of computer science at the University of California, Berkeley. A leading AI researcher, Russell has served as vice-chair of the World Economic Forum’s Council on AI and Robotics and as an advisor to the UN regarding arms control. He’s also coauthor of the definitive and universally acclaimed textbook on AI Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach (1994) which is the number one best-selling textbook on AI and is used in over 1,400 universities in 128 countries around the world.

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Human Compatible

Artificial Intelligence and the Problem of Control

By Stuart Russell
  • Read in 12 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 7 key ideas
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Human Compatible by Stuart Russell
Synopsis

Human Compatible (2019) explains why the creation of a superintelligent artificial intelligence could be humanity’s final act. The blinks call to attention the potential catastrophe that humanity is heading towards, and discuss what needs to be done to avoid it. If we’re to ensure AI remains beneficial to humans in the long run, we may need to radically rethink its design.

Key idea 1 of 7

We need several breakthroughs in software before AI surpasses human intelligence.

Today’s computers can process information at astounding speeds. But even as early as the 1950s, computers were being touted as super-brains that are “faster than Einstein.”

Of course, computers back then had nothing on the human brain. But we still compared the two. In fact, from the very beginning of computer science, we’ve tended to measure computational intelligence – and progress – against human intelligence.

So, what about today’s computers? Some of them, surely, can give us a run for our money?

The key message here is: We need several breakthroughs in software before AI surpasses human intelligence.

The fastest computer in the world today is the Summit Machine, housed at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the US. Compared to the world’s first commercial computer, the Ferranti Mark 1, the Summit Machine is 1,000 trillion times faster and has 250 trillion times more memory. That’s a lot of zeros.

In terms of raw computing power, the Summit Machine actually slightly exceeds the human brain, although it requires a warehouse full of hardware and a million times more energy.

Still, it’s impressive. But can we say that today’s supercomputers – the Summit Machine included – are as powerful as the human brain? The answer is decidedly no.

Sure, these computers have impressive hardware, which allows their algorithms to operate faster and process more information. But there’s far more to intelligence than just processing speed.

The real problem in designing intelligence is in the software. As of now, we still need several major conceptual breakthroughs in AI software before we witness anything resembling human-level artificial intelligence.

The most important breakthrough we need is in the comprehension of language. Most of today’s intelligent speech recognition AI are based on canned responses and have trouble interpreting nuances in meaning. That’s why you get stories of smartphone personal assistants responding to the request ‘call me an ambulance’ with ‘ok, from now on, I’ll call you Ann Ambulance.’ Genuinely intelligent AI will need to interpret meaning based not just on the words said but on their context and tone as well.

We can never really say when conceptual breakthroughs will take place. But one thing’s for sure we shouldn’t underestimate human ingenuity.

Consider the following example. In 1933, the distinguished nuclear physicist Ernest Rutherford announced at a formal address that harnessing nuclear energy was impossible. The very next day, the Hungarian physicist Leó Szilárd outlined the neutron-induced nuclear chain reaction, essentially solving the problem.

We don’t yet know whether superintelligence – intelligence beyond human abilities – will emerge soon, later or not at all. But it’s still prudent to take precautions, just as it was when designing nuclear technology.

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