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Future of Humanity: Nick Bostrom supports Stephen Hawking's AI predictions

Sam Shead | May 19, 2015
The growing field of artificial intelligence is catching the eye of academics and technology leaders worldwide.

Professor Nick Bostrom
Artificial intelligence expert Professor Nick Bostrom

Renowned artificial intelligence (AI) expert Nick Bostrom yesterday said robots and machines will overtake humans in terms of intelligence within the next century, in an echo of a prediction from Professor Stephen Hawking mere days before.

Bostrom - who leads the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford and is known for his work on existential risk, human enhancement ethics and superintelligence risks - said there's a "decent probability" that machines will outsmart humans within the next hundred years.

"100 years is quite long," he said at the University of Oxford on Sunday during the annual Silicon Valley Comes to Oxford conference. "We haven't even had computers for 100 years so everything we've seen so far has happened in like 70 years. If you think of the simplest computers, so some simple thing like Pong, and compare that to where we are now, it's a fairly large distance. So it doesn't seem that crazy to say that in 100 years, or indeed much less than that, we will take the remaining steps."

AI can be defined as the intelligence exhibited by machines or software. It has the potential to have a profound impact on the world and it's an area being pursued by global tech giants such as Google and Facebook.

Bostrom said there will be a fundamental transformation in human civilisation when machine intelligence reaches the same level as human intelligence, adding that it will arguably be the most important thing that will ever happen in human history.

"I personally believe that once human equivalence is reached, it will not be long before machines become superintelligent after that," he told an audience of students, aspiring entrepreneurs, academics and business leaders. "It might take a long time to get to human level but I think the step from there to superintelligence might be very quick. I think these machines with superintelligence might be extremely powerful, for the same basic reasons that we humans are very powerful relative to other animals on this planet. It's not because our muscles are stronger or our teeth are sharper, it's because our brains are better."

If humans do create superintelligent machines, Bostrom said our future is likely to be shaped by them, for the better or the worse.

"Superintelligence could help humans achieve our long term goals and values," he said. "They could be an extremely powerful ally that could help us solve a number of other problems that we face."

But superintelligence could also be "extremely dangerous" said Bostrom, pointing to the extinction of the Neanderthals and the near-extinction of the gorillas when the more intelligent Homo sapiens arrived.


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