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Scientists say AI fears unfounded, could hinder tech advances

Sharon Gaudin | Jan. 30, 2015
Artificial intelligence research for at least the foreseeable future is going to help humans, not harm them.

Artificial intelligence research for at least the foreseeable future is going to help humans, not harm them.

However, fears about artificial intelligence (AI) and the development of smart robots that have made headlines recently could slow research into an important technology.

That's the thinking from AI researchers and industry analysts attending the AAAI-15 conference in Austin, Texas, this week.

"People who are alarmed are thinking way ahead," said Oren Etzioni, CEO of the Allen Institute for AI. "The thing I would say is AI will empower us not exterminate us... It could set AI back if people took what some are saying literally and seriously."

AI risks whether current or far in the future were the topic of many conversations at the annual AI conference since a scientific and high-tech luminaries recent raised red flags about building intelligent machines.

Early in December, renowned physicist Stephen Hawking said in an interview with the BBC that the development of "full artificial intelligence" could bring an end to the human race.

While Hawking said artificial intelligence today poses no threat to humans, he added that he worries about the technology advancing to the point that robots and other machines could become more intelligent and physically stronger than people.

Those statements sent ripples across the Internet since they came about a month after Elon Musk, CEO and co-founder of SpaceX and electric car maker Tesla Motors, created headlines when he said artificial intelligence is a threat to humanity.

"I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence," Musk said at an MIT symposium in October. "With artificial intelligence, we are summoning the demon. In all those stories with the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, and he's sure he can control the demon. It doesn't work out."

John Bresina, a computer scientist in the Intelligent Systems Division at NASA's Ames Research Center, said he was surprised to hear Musk and Hawking's statements about AI.

"We're in control of what we program," Bresina said, noting it was his own opinion and not an official NASA statement. "I'm not worried about the danger of AI... I don't think we're that close at all. We can't program something that learns like a child learns even yet. The advances we have are more engineering things. Engineering tools aren't dangerous. We're solving engineering problems."

While scientists and analysts at the conference said they're not fearful of the intelligent systems being built today, there was discussion about the issue. Ethics in artificial intelligence was among the topics of workshops and sessions held during the six-day conference.

Conference attendees aren't the only ones who have been talking about the ethics and potential perils of creating artificially intelligent systems.


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