Artificial Intelligence as a Positive and Negative Factor in Global Risk

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Artificial Intelligence as a Positive and Negative Factor in Global Risk Eliezer Yudkowsky
(yudkowsky@singinst.org) Forthcoming in Global Catastrophic Risks, eds. Nick Bostrom and Milan Cirkovic Draft of August 31, 2006

Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence Palo Alto, CA Introduction By far the greatest danger of Artificial Intelligence is that people conclude too early that they understand it. Of course this problem is not limited to the field of AI. Jacques Monod wrote: "A curious aspect of the theory of evolution is that everybody thinks he understands it." (Monod 1974.) My father, a physicist, complained about people making up their own theories of physics; he wanted to know why people did not make up their own theories of chemistry. (Answer: They do.) Nonetheless the problem seems to be unusually acute in Artificial Intelligence. The field of AI has a reputation for making huge promises and then failing to deliver on them. Most observers conclude that AI is hard; as indeed it is. But the embarrassment does not stem from the difficulty. It is difficult to build a star from hydrogen, but the field of stellar astronomy does not have a terrible reputation for promising to build stars and then failing. The critical inference is not that AI is hard, but that, for some reason, it is very easy for people to think they know far more about Artificial Intelligence than they actually do. In my other chapter for Global Catastrophic Risks, "Cognitive biases potentially affecting judgment of global risks", I opened by remarking that few people would deliberately choose to destroy the world; a scenario in which the Earth is destroyed by mistake is therefore very worrisome. Few people would push a button that they clearly knew would cause a global catastrophe. But if people are liable to confidently believe that the button does something quite different from its actual consequence, that is cause indeed for alarm. It is far more difficult to write about global risks of Artificial Intelligence than about cognitive biases. Cognitive biases are settled science; one need simply quote the literature. Artificial Intelligence is not settled science; it belongs to the frontier, not to the textbook. And, for reasons discussed in a later section, on the topic of global catastrophic risks of

Artificial Intelligence, there is virtually no discussion in the existing technical literature. I have perforce analyzed the matter from my own perspective; given my own conclusions and done my best to support them in limited space. It is not that I have neglected to cite the existing major works on this topic, but that, to the best of my ability to discern, there are no existing major works to cite (as of January 2006). It may be tempting to ignore Artificial Intelligence because, of all the global risks discussed in this book, AI is hardest to discuss. We cannot consult actuarial statistics to assign small annual probabilities of catastrophe, as with asteroid strikes. We cannot use calculations from a precise, precisely confirmed model to rule out events or place infinitesimal upper bounds on their probability, as with proposed physics disasters. But this makes AI catastrophes more worrisome, not less. The effect of many cognitive biases has been found to increase with time pressure, cognitive busyness, or sparse information. Which is to say that the more difficult the analytic challenge, the more important it is to avoid or reduce bias. Therefore I strongly recommend reading "Cognitive biases potentially affecting judgment of global risks", pp. XXX-YYY, before continuing with this chapter. 1: Anthropomorphic bias When something is universal enough in our everyday lives, we take it for granted to the point of forgetting it exists. Imagine a complex biological adaptation with ten necessary parts. If each of ten genes are independently at 50% frequency in the gene pool - each gene possessed by only half the organisms in that species - then,...
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