Human-Level AI Is Right Around the Corner—or Hundreds of Years Away

I was surprised (though maybe I shouldn’t be) that our Thanksgiving dinner discussions turned to Artificial Intelligence and robotics.  Everyone is worried about the future of smart machines and capable robots.  I thought this was the future we were all supposed to be looking forward to.  I remember watching “The Jetsons” when I was a kid and couldn’t wait for the flying cars, robot helpers and smart machines.  Things are different today, for some reason.  People fear the possible dystopia more than they welcome the possible utopia.

I ran across this article in my IEEE Spectrum (May 2017) where some tech heavyweights, uh, weigh in on these technologies, and the opinions are just as diverse.  You might need to be an IEEE member (I just renewed today) to read these, but I have put two from my favorite tech leaders below, which I also happen to agree with.

Human-Level AI Is Right Around the Corner—or Hundreds of Years Away

From Carver Mead:

Do you have any qualms about a future in which computers have human-level (or greater) intelligence?

Every time there’s been progress in technology, people have predicted that it will be the end of society as we know it, and it never has been. The world today is a vastly better world for everyone than the world of 100 years ago. In fact, technology has been the single force that has propagated prosperity across the world. Technology has always been used [for both good and evil], and yet if you look over 100 years, the good has won out over the bad by a large margin.

From Rodney Brooks:

When will we have computers as capable as the brain?
Rodney Brooks’s revised question: When will we have computers/robots recognizably as intelligent and as conscious as humans?

Not in our lifetimes, not even in Ray Kurzweil’s lifetime, and despite his fervent wishes, just like the rest of us, he will die within just a few decades. It will be well over 100 years before we see this level in our machines. Maybe many hundred years.

As intelligent and as conscious as dogs?

Maybe in 50 to 100 years. But they won’t have noses anywhere near as good as the real thing. They will be olfactorily challenged dogs.

How will brainlike computers change the world?

Since we won’t have intelligent computers like humans for well over 100 years, we cannot make any sensible projections about how they will change the world, as we don’t understand what the world will be like at all in 100 years. (For example, imagine reading Turing’s paper on computable numbers in 1936 and trying to pro­ject out how computers would change the world in just 70 or 80 years.) So an equivalent well-grounded question would have to be something simpler, like “How will computers/robots continue to change the world?” Answer: Within 20 years most baby boomers are going to have robotic devices in their homes, helping them maintain their independence as they age in place. This will include Ray Kurzweil, who will still not be immortal.

Do you have any qualms about a future in which computers have human-level (or greater) intelligence?

No qualms at all, as the world will have evolved so much in the next 100+ years that we cannot possibly imagine what it will be like, so there is no point in qualming. Qualming in the face of zero facts or understanding is a fun parlor game but generally not useful. And yes, this includes Nick Bostrom.