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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.

The event when machines surpass human levels of intelligence and ability has been dubbed "the singularity".

Is science fiction leading us to trivialise the real risks of super intelligent machines?

Is science fiction leading us to trivialise the real risks of super intelligent machines? Photo: Columbia Pictures

"In my view the fact that computers caught up to humans and completely dominate humans in chess and some other domains already that says there's evidence that yes in principle they can be better programmers than humans," said Tallinn, 40.

"Once computers can program they basically take over technological progress because already today the majority of technological progress is run by software, by programming."

The question then is, how can you control something that can actually reprogram itself?

"Once you acknowledge that human brains are basically made of atoms and acknowledge that atoms are governed by simple laws of physics then there is no reasoning principle why computers couldn't do anything that people are doing and we don't really see any evidence that this is not the case," said Tallinn.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what could happen to us humans if we're no longer the most advanced, technologically aware species.

"It really sucks to be the number two intelligent species on this planet; you can just ask gorillas," said Tallinn.

"They will go extinct, and the reason why the will go extinct is not that humans are actively conspiring against the gorillas, it's that we as the dominant species are rearranging the environment; the planet used to produce forests but now it's producing cities."

The key, he says, is to make sure that once we have systems that can rearrange the environment like we can, we need to ensure that those changes are beneficial to us.

"We don't want super intelligence to do terraforming projects; that means take the planet and change its atmosphere or soil or whatever," he said.

"What we have to realise is designing super intelligence is not a typical technology project because a typical technology project is something where we develop a first version of something and refine it.

"We can't do that with super intelligence because in order to refine a first version of super intelligence, you have to basically kill or turn off the first version but if this thing is smarter than you, how do you turn it off?"

So, in the worst case scenario, smarter machines could rise up and destroy us all? Tallinn says the worst case scenario could be "even worse" than that.


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