Guest Speaker: Toby Walsh on Artificial Intelligence

CeBIT-365-Toby-Walsh-01We spoke with Toby Walsh about Artificial Intelligence and why many fears are wrong. In his new book "It's Alive!: Artificial Intelligence from the Logic Piano to Killer Robots" Professor Walsh asks if we should be worried about the spectacular advances and if AI will really threaten our existence. Here is his opinion:

Stanley Kubrick's ground-breaking film "2001" opened 50 years ago. The baddie in the movie was an artificially intelligent computer, HAL 9000. It woke many to a future where Artificial Intelligence was to fear.

Many famous scientists and engineers have increased those fears. The late Stephen Hawking. The ever-provocative Elon Musk.  He has called AI our biggest existential threat. Is he right? 

We first have to agree what we mean by “biggest”. If we mean “most certain to destroy mankind” then there are other threats, which have almost no other outcome than our complete destruction.

Large asteroids in near-Earth orbits have had a habit of knocking the dominant species off the face of this planet; and no cast of ageing movie actors is going to save us from this fate.

If “biggest” means “most likely” to impact on mankind “seriously” in the near future then a majority of scientists would probably name climate change over artificial intelligence as a bigger imminent threat. Or an Ebola pandemic.

Indeed, a recent survey of 50 Nobel Laureates ranked the climate, population rise, nuclear war, disease, selfishness, ignorance, terrorism, fundamentalism, and Trump as bigger threats to humanity than AI. 

So, it is not at all certain that AI is really our biggest threat.

Actually, my suspicion is that AI’s biggest threat is to your job.

Even previously considered safe professions like medicine and law are starting to see the impact of smart systems.

Technologies such as IBM’s Watson and Apple’s Siri are paving the way for many tasks to be automated.

The workplace of today is very different to that of 50 years ago. And the workplace of 50 years’ time is going to be almost unrecognisable compared to the workplace of today.

Toby-Walsh-2-01And this really will have a big impact on society, how we view work, and how wealth is distributed.

Indeed, one of the biggest threats of artificial intelligence may well be to enlarge the already widening gap between the rich and the poor. If AI increases the rate of return on capital, then the wealth inequality that Thomas Piketty has charted will only become even more extreme.

This is the sort of serious debate that we need to start having soon for it will impact on all of us.

I encourage you to join this debate. You can find out more at my talk at CeBIT next month, or in my new book, "It's Alive!: Artificial Intelligence from the Logic Piano to Killer Robots".