Monday, December 16, 2019

Artificial Intelligence: Threat or Menace?

SF author Charlie Stross just gave a talk about artificial intelligence to the IT Futures conference held at the University of Edinburgh. He's posted the transcript on his blog.

Stross has given more thought to the future of society and technology than just about anyone I can think of and this talk distills some of the ideas that have been influencing his books over the last decade or two. I found this part especially intersesting.
Let's get back to the 90/9/1 percent distribution, that applies to the components of the near future: 90% here today, 9% not here yet but on the drawing boards, and 1% unpredictable. I came up with that rule of thumb around 2005, but the ratio seems to be shifting these days. Changes happen faster, and there are more disruptive unknown-unknowns hitting us from all quarters with every passing decade. This is a long-established trend: throughout most of recorded history, the average person lived their life pretty much the same way as their parents and grandparents. Long-term economic growth averaged less than 0.1% per year over the past two thousand years. It has only been since the onset of the industrial revolution that change has become a dominant influence on human society. I suspect the 90/9/1 distribution is now something more like 85/10/5 — that is, 85% of the world of 2029 is here today, about 10% can be anticipated, and the random, unwelcome surprises constitute up to 5% of the mix. Which is kind of alarming, when you pause to think about it.
And this:
 Companies don't literally try to pass the Turing test, but they exchange information with other companies — and they are powerful enough to process inputs far beyond the capacity of an individual human brain. A Boeing 787 airliner contains on the order of six million parts and is produced by a consortium of suppliers (coordinated by Boeing); designing it is several orders of magnitude beyond the competence of any individual engineer, but the Boeing "Chinese Room" nevertheless developed a process for designing, testing, manufacturing, and maintaining such a machine, and it's a process that is not reliant on any sole human being.
Where, then, is Boeing's mind?
I don't think Boeing has a mind as such, but it functions as an ad-hoc rules-based AI system, and exhibits drives that mirror those of an actual life form. Corporations grow, predate on one another, seek out sources of nutrition (revenue streams), and invade new environmental niches. Corporations exhibit metabolism, in the broadest sense of the word — they take in inputs and modify them, then produce outputs, including a surplus of money that pays for more inputs. Like all life forms they exist to copy information into the future. They treat human beings as interchangeable components, like cells in a body: they function as superorganisms — hive entities — and they reap efficiency benefits when they replace fallible and fragile human components with automated replacements.

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