As someone who was told I could protect myself from being vaporized by a USSR nuclear attack by hiding under my elementary school desk, I’ve grown fairly immune to warnings of the imminent end of humanity. That’s why I easily dismissed a scholar’s recent warning that superhuman artificial intelligence would (not could) destroy all life on earth.
Then I saw how easily millions of people were fooled by a fake photo of Pope Francis appearing to wear a $6,000 Balenciaga puffer coat and realized it might not take superhuman intelligence to destroy humans. People are willingly doing it to themselves on Facebook.
Eliezer Yudkowsky is the lead researcher at the Machine Intelligence Research Institute in Berkley, California. In a recent open letter to the AI community, Yudkowsky persuasively warns that the current direction of AI advancements will result in the death of every single member of the human species and all biological life on Earth. He writes that it isn’t something with a remote possible chance. “It is the obvious thing that will happen.”
Even the skeptic in me read carefully as Yudkowsky explained that we can already transmit DNA strings via email, allowing scientists to produce replicate proteins on demand – and providing an existing possible way for AI to “escape” the confines of a computer or the Internet by creating its own artificial life forms using the molecular building block of chromosomal existence.
I believe, however, that a more imminent threat to humanity is evidenced by the number of people who blindly accept satire as real news or never question obviously impossible public claims before repeating them. Fake Pope pics and Marjorie Taylor Green/AOC quotes serve as self-administered public IQ tests.
People are falling in love with chat bots, with sometimes disastrous romantic consequences when companies update their software. Advice to employers: never hire someone who happily admits being in love with binary code.
I am smart enough to know that I am not smart enough to know the future of AI. The idea of computers or robots taking over a bunch of jobs seems inevitable; that’s what technology has always done. If AI is a tool that replaces all emotion in a decision process with logic, that seems to me to be a useful tool. My guess is that, like every other tool man has developed, it will create increased disparities between those who use the tool and those who don’t.
Yudkowsky’s warning to the contrary, however, I am going to assume that life will continue for the foreseeable future – and continue to roll my eyes at the gullible people who seemingly look for fake news to believe.
David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management. A version of this piece originally appeared in the USA TODAY NETWORK.