Rise of the machines

July 18, 2012
Jaan Tallinn

Jaan Tallinn (credit: Singularity Institute)

Machines are becoming so intelligent that they could pose an existential threat, argues Skype founder Jaan Tallinn, Sydney Morning Herald reports.

Tallinn says human-driven technological progress has largely replaced evolution as the dominant force shaping our future as machines are becoming smarter than we are, so if we are not careful this could lead to a “sudden global ecological catastrophe”.

Computers to be better than us at classic games like chess, better drivers (Google’s driverless car being just one example), better at voice and face recognition and, as IBM’s Watson computer proved, even better at the game Jeopardy!.

The U.S. military is experimenting with robot fighter pilots, while the majority of trading on the stock market is done by computers with algorithmic trading.

“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?

“What we have to realize 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?”

“If you build machines that understand what humans are and they really have some distorted view of what we want, then we might end up being alive but not controlling the future,” he said. ”For example if the skill is to make sure that people are happy and the way the super intelligence is supposed to measure that is how many smiles are on the planet, the easiest way to achieve that is to sedate everyone and make sure their faces are stuck in a cramp or smiling.”

The alternative is to harness super intelligence to work for us. ”Once you have something that is smarter than you and is actively on your side, you can basically solve any problems really quickly.”