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Rise of the machines

Asher Moses, SMH | July 19, 2012
One of the founding engineers of Skype and Kazaa is in Australia to sound a warning to the human race: fasten your seatbelts, as machines are becoming so intelligent that they could pose an existential threat.

Jaan Tallinn argues that human-driven technological progress has largely replaced evolution as the dominant force shaping our future.

Jaan Tallinn argues that human-driven technological progress has largely replaced evolution as the dominant force shaping our future.

One of the founding engineers of Skype and Kazaa is in Australia to sound a warning to the human race: fasten your seatbelts, as machines are becoming so intelligent that they could pose an existential threat.

Jaan Tallinn argues human-driven technological progress has largely replaced evolution as the dominant force shaping our future. Machines are becoming smarter than we are, but Tallinn warns that if we are not careful this could lead to a "sudden global ecological catastrophe".

It really sucks to be the number two intelligent species on this planet; you can just ask gorillas, they will go extinct. 

This sounds like science fiction stuff, but consider the breadth of domains where computers have already caught up to - and then dominated - humans.

Implications of super intelligent machines have been explored in many films like iRobot.

Implications of super intelligent machines have been explored in many films like I, Robot.

We have already programmed computers to be better than us at classic games like chess, better drivers (Google's driverless car being just one example), better at voice and face recognition and, as IBM's Watson computer proved, even better at the game Jeopardy.

The US military is experimenting with robot fighter pilots, while the majority of trading on the stock market is done by computers in what is known as algorithmic trading.

"My core main message is actually that this thing is not science fiction, this thing is not apocalyptic religion - this thing is something that needs serious consideration," said Tallinn, who gave a talk on his theory at the University of Sydney last night.

Tallinn believes the rise of super intelligent machines - fictionalised in The Terminator - could lead to a "sudden global ecological catastrophe".

Tallinn believes the rise of super intelligent machines - fictionalised in The Terminator - could lead to a "sudden global ecological catastrophe".

Tallinn isn't your average programmer. The Estonian is a board member of the Lifeboat Foundation (tagline "safeguarding humanity") and at university he majored in theoretical physics. His thesis looked at travelling interstellar distances using warps in space-time.

He argues we are witnessing an "intelligence explosion" - with neuroscience advancing in leaps and bounds to the point where scientists could replicate the human brain by the middle of this century.

 

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