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Thinking About Artificial Intelligence, Part 3

It turns out that things are a bit further along than I thought. I knew we were on the cusp of some paradigm shifting developments, but I wasn’t fully aware of the real world applications that are already here.

Let me be clear – the development of general AI is already well underway, and it will either be our greatest human achievement, elevating every aspect of our existence, or we will have created our own existential threat.

The big question is: When it arrives, what will this unstoppable god-like super intelligence decide to do with us? Up until the point at which AI surpasses us, we will have ruled our world simply because we were the smartest occupants. What happens when we aren’t?

I don’t know how I missed this astonishing article “The Great AI Awakening” written by Gideon Lewis-Kraus and published in the New York Times on December 14th, 2016. It reads like a science fiction thriller, except it’s a true account of something that is very much real. And it’s two years old…

It’s the story of neural nets and how Google used them to improve Google translate, and if you think that sounds boring you would be very, very mistaken. One doesn’t have to even be that bright to extrapolate the implications. They are both truly frightening and blindingly exciting, and they’re all around us. It’s already happening and we don’t even see it.

Lewis-Kraus reports on the Google Brain project:

“First a human mind learns to recognize a ball and rests easily with the accomplishment for a moment, but sooner or later, it wants to ask for the ball. And then it wades into language…

…The first step in that direction was the cat paper, which made Brain famous.

What the cat paper demonstrated was that a neural network with more than a billion “synaptic” connections — a hundred times larger than any publicized neural network to that point, yet still many orders of magnitude smaller than our brains — could observe raw, unlabeled data and pick out for itself a high-order human concept. The Brain researchers had shown the network millions of still frames from YouTube videos, and out of the welter of the pure sensorium the network had isolated a stable pattern any toddler or chipmunk would recognize without a moment’s hesitation as the face of a cat. The machine had not been programmed with the foreknowledge of a cat; it reached directly into the world and seized the idea for itself. (The researchers discovered this with the neural-network equivalent of something like an M.R.I., which showed them that a ghostly cat face caused the artificial neurons to “vote” with the greatest collective enthusiasm.) Most machine learning to that point had been limited by the quantities of labeled data. The cat paper showed that machines could also deal with raw unlabeled data, perhaps even data of which humans had no established foreknowledge. This seemed like a major advance not only in cat-recognition studies but also in overall artificial intelligence.”

If you think life will always just keep rolling along, you are in for some very rude shocks. It’s possible that biological intelligence was just a loading program for the next step in evolution.

You know, the one where biology is no longer necessary.