Does Artificial Intelligence Really Threaten Mankind? Fears of Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk Stir Debate

7 December 2014, 9:13 am EST By James Maynard Tech Times
Physicist Stephen Hawking and technology developer Elon Musk are each warning artificial intelligence could soon take over the world. Is the Terminator in our future?  ( Dan Kitwood/Getty Images )

Artificial intelligence is revolutionizing many aspects of life, but does the technology threaten the very existence of mankind? Tesla Motors founder Elon Musk and famed astrophysicist Stephen Hawking have each made recent statements warning of the dangers posed by developing human-like intelligence in computer systems.

Turing tests examine the ability of a computer to convincingly replicate a human during a conversation with an actual person. Passing these tests, named after the pioneering computer researcher Alan Turing, has been a goal of electronics designers for decades. Recent reports suggest one computer can successfully imitate a human in conversation, but that claim has faced skepticism.

DeepMind, a Google-managed startup company, announced in October that they have created the most advanced neural network ever designed to function like short-term memory in human brains. The network learns as it stores memories, allowing the device to operate beyond its original programming. Google purchased DeepMind for $400 million.

Science fiction is rich with stories of doomsday scenarios centered on the idea of robots developing past their original mission, deciding to destroy mankind.

Robotics developers in the real world are today working on creating personal assistants able to recognize objects, people and pets, and determine their own actions. Development of artificial intelligence could allow the creation of domestic robots that fill the cat food dish when they sense the bowl is empty.

Ray Kurzweil, a futurist and inventor recently hired by Google as director of engineering, believes that computers will soon become more intelligent than human beings. He believes this event, which he refers to as "the singularity," will take place by the year 2045.

"The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race," Stephen Hawking said.

Despite being at the forefront of many new technologies, billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk has made more than one public statement, warning of dangers from artificial intelligence.

"[I would] keep an eye on what's going on with artificial intelligence ... I think there's potentially a dangerous outcome there," Musk said.

Google is a pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence, developing self-driving automobiles, smartphone assistants and other examples of machine learning.

Musk, along with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and actor Ashton Kutcher, recently invested $40 million in artificial brain developer Vicarious FPC.

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