AI – not the baby, fast look up kind, but the one that is just beginning to emerge and worry people like Elon Musk (hashtag ‘next stop Mars’) – is at a crossroads. Between the many, many lines of hype about AI, the evolving technology is getting some very serious attention.
At one end of the life-and-death fulcrum comes the news that a robot has successfully conducted the Lucca Philharmonic Orchestra – and Andrea Bocelli – in Pisa. The human conductor praised its grace and fluidity of movement (before, one would like to think, switching it off at the mains).
At the other end of the apocalyptic balance is news that there is apparently an AI arms race in progress. All three superpowers are investing the GDP of New Zealand – probably more – to implement AI into their military operations. Russia has a goal of making 30% of its military equipment robotic within the next decade, while China is investing billions to make it the leader in AI to “make its national defense and security the best in the world”.
The US, widely considered to be the front runner at the moment, does not have a prescriptive program for its AI research, but considers that the technology provides an edge similar to the nuclear bomb, or precision guided bombs and missiles (hashtag ‘friendly fire’).
According to Mr Putin, “whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.” Oddly, being Mr Putin, he didn’t say this riding a horse bare back, while wrestling a grizzly bear to the ground. No, he decided the audience for that homely little lesson were students at 16,000 “carefully selected” schools. Nice way to start the new school year – fire up the nation’s youth in pursuit of world domination.
The problem, as we have said before, is that the genie is out of the bottle and we cannot put it back in.
It is inevitable that nations will invest in AI, or anything else which will give them an edge. And with AI, it is still too early to even think about what war will look like 20 years from now (drones, clones and VR war zones?). But it is on the way to creating a very different world (if the world survives long enough for Mr Musk to take us all to Mars).
And as for the orchestra conductor – well, presumably he will retire on his Universal Basic Income and watch the robot conduct beautiful music in a virtual reality.
As a Very Senior IBM Research Person said a couple of years ago, “Our toes are dangling over a very uncertain future.”