“The Development of Full Artificial Intelligence Could Spell The End of The Human Race” by Ralph Nader

Dandelion Salad

by Ralph Nader
The Nader Page, August 17, 2015
August 20, 2015

When the stunning article “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us” by Bill Joy, chief scientist for Sun Microsystems, made the cover of Wired Magazine in April 2000, it created quite a rumble in high-tech circles. Its argument was that “our most powerful 21st century technologies—robotics, genetic engineering, and nanotech—are threatening to make humans an endangered species.”

Bill Joy was writing about out of control, self-replicating technologies that, once the stuff of science fiction, were now on the way in decades if not years. Tens of thousands of scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and systems analysts are working in countries all over the world churning out theories and specialized applications without much consideration of their overall impacts.

The funding has been coming from various governments’ military budgets, heavily contracted out to industrial corporations and, now increasingly, from the commercial pursuits of global corporations. The rate of knowledge production has been exponential as computers become faster and are programmed to become more self-reliant.

Seventy percent of the volume of stock trading in the U.S. is now driven by computers and their algorithms—a mere glimmer of the future pictured by Mr. Joy.

The worries among sensitive futurists are both the intended and unintended consequences. Autonomous weaponry, for example, may be intended for certain purposes by government militaries, but then emerge as more dreaded unintended consequences where, for example, these weapons decide themselves when and whom to strike.

Last month, astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Elon Musk of Tesla Motors were some of many specialists who signed an open letter that called for a ban on autonomous weapons. The letter says, “If any major military power pushes ahead with artificial intelligence weapons, a global arms race is virtually inevitable,” adding that “unlike nuclear weapons, they require no costly or hard-to-obtain raw materials, so they will become ubiquitous and cheap for all significant military powers to mass-produce.”

Artificial intelligence (AI) or “thinking machines” are worrying far more of the serious scientists/technologists than those few who speak out publically.

Last December, in an interview with the BBC, Stephen Hawking, through his computer-generated voice, warned that “the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race… It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate.” Hawking, a big thinker, noted that “humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.”

Self-restraint is not a characteristic of the companies developing robotics for businesses that want to replace tens of millions of both white collar and blue collar jobs. Look at the latest factories, refineries and warehouses to illustrate what is coming fast. Even the work of lawyers is being automated.

But the warnings coming from people like Nassim Taleb, author of the runaway best-seller Black Swan and Stuart Russell, a computer scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, co-author of the textbook on artificial intelligence who writes about “risks that could lead to human extinction,” need to reach wider audiences.

Complex systems can be very fragile in ways not foreseen until they happen! That is why Bill Joy saw all three of these technologies—nanotechnology, genetic engineering and artificial intelligence—as interwoven systems expanding over the globe beyond human control.

In a recent interview (July 17, 2015) by Science magazine, Professor Russell was asked “what do you see as a likely path from artificial intelligence (AI) to disaster?” He replied: “the routes could be varied and complex—corporations seeking a super-technological advantage, countries trying to build AI systems before their enemies, or a slow-boiled frog kind of evolution leading to dependence and enfeeblement not unlike E.M. Forster’s The Machine Stops.”

He told Science that he “is not aware of any large movement calling for regulation either inside or outside AI, because we don’t know how to write such regulation.” Such, he noted, is the “bewildering variety of software.”

In the meantime, Congress is oblivious to these grim scenarios. The Republicans in charge have no interest in holding educational public hearings, because the corporations who own them have no such interest. Meanwhile, the myopic Democrats are too busy dialing for commercial campaign dollars to grease their campaigns so as to retake the Congress in 2016.

Some of these Democrats know better. They championed the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), an arm of Congress established to research and advise members of Congress about such matters. When Congressman Newt Gingrich toppled the Democrats in 1994, one of his first acts was to defund and shut down OTA.

Congress has played ostrich ever since. The American people will surely pay the price unless a tiny few, including leaders of the scientific community, organize and demand that Congress reinstate this technical warning system that OTA provided. With a tiny annual budget of $22 million, OTA saved far more in prevented boondoggles that were circulating on Capitol Hill.

None of this domestic inaction should preclude international efforts to expand the Geneva Conventions against chemical and biological warfare to cover these latest mass destruction weapons against humanity. This initiative would constitute an updated declaration of profound human rights.

From the archives:

David Swanson: Are we in favor of killer flying robots over our homes and schools, or are we not?

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

see also:

Why the future doesn’t need us. by Bill Joy

Robots and AI: utopia or dystopia? part one by Michael Roberts

9 thoughts on ““The Development of Full Artificial Intelligence Could Spell The End of The Human Race” by Ralph Nader

  1. Pingback: Can the World Defend Itself from Omnicide? by Ralph Nader – Dandelion Salad

  2. Some months ago, saw a program which showed lonely older people in Japan who were given robotic animals/pets or infants complete with realistic sounds/voices as companions, and the elders could be seen on film displaying real emotions to the things. Only remember thinking “this can’t be happening.”

    Drones should be made illegal worldwide.

  3. Great comments below…

    As Arthur C Clarke famously stated, these technologies are magic. The founder of Theosophy Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, writing in the C19th eloquently characterised the trade in lethal weapons in her day, as the worst most debased species of black magic.

    Nowadays we have geo-engineering, weaponized food-like substances designed to inoculate consumers, altered biologies, “heritage” mind-control systems like corporate television and insidious fake intel internet sites, invisible frequency devices that affect the brain, constant paranoia, surveillance and fear seeding, microbeads and animals choking or suffering & dying from plastic detritus, lethal (addictive) “therapeutic” drugs, legal highs and illicit bootleg chemicals, monstrously destructive ordnance of every description, pervasive and persistent radioactive residues everywhere, ocean acidification, nuclear waste in tonnage, ripped landscapes and agribusiness monoculture deserts, raped communities, torture in trumps, toxins in everything, need I go on? Can magic really get any blacker?

    Little wonder then that ISIL/Daesh wraps it’s divine deliverance in a flapping black shroud, blacker than the sacred ink of any Qur’anic cuttle-fish. Blacker even than pitch-black Texas tea.

    As peskyvera & donwreford say ~ & dolphin wisely alludes to ~ we’ve already got more than enough stupidity to ruin a planet and induce extinction ~ so when we hear this genius-talk about artificial intelligence, what they really mean is mega, meta-stupidity….the institutionalised insanity of methodical ecocide ~ “brand” new & hyper efficient irresponsibility.

    • Very wise David as always, it is the first time I have heard Hawkins come in out with a political statement as a significant individual not before time! the disturbing aspect to allow a machine to shape mans destiny is a indictment and blotch on the few who are largely in control of mans destiny at this moment in time, a machine can never become the Sage of savoir faire nor qualities of perspicacity, to worship the machine as the controlling mechanism is a default and aberration of sanity, as such a betrayal of human endeavor and faith, the revelation to many is how long we having followed the map that purports to be a faithful guide as to our bearings of our significance? the abrogation of our responsibility having given trust to those whom fooled us throughout the centuries before we have awakened from our deep sleep to the truth eroding our ability of discernment suspended to what is? a criminal predisposition of magnifying a image posturing as for professing the common good by the few, yet having a covert agenda of self grandiosity, the individual has no other choice than to increase awareness as a constant and summon the energy to resist becoming a victim and casualty of what the status quo deems to be correct.

      • Thanks dw…nice response ~ do you remember what our folks used to say ‘trying to run before you can walk?’

        I am also reminded of an amusing story related by a woman from Western Canada, possibly living in Saskatchewan as a writer or something like that, who described how she would habitually turn on the TV to find out what the weather was like, until it suddenly occurred to her that all she needed to do was look out of the window!

  4. I think it’s been part of the plan all along. In my Communications classes, they pretty much said that they were trying to make computers more human-like. Why else would they now make computers that look and act like humans? What purpose would that serve? And the answer coming back is unnerving…

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