Debunking: “rise of the machines”

There is an article in which Skype founder Jaan Tallinn claims …”Machines are becoming so intelligent that they could pose an existential threat“. Really!! OK, lets take a look.

The article is in the Sidney Morning Herald .

Claim: “Jaan Tallinn argues human-driven technological progress has largely replaced evolution as the dominant force shaping our future.”

As far as I’m aware, humans are still breeding, and … gasp … there is no technology that modifies that process. Kids are still the product of our biology … no clones, no genetic modification etc… so while we do  have better medical care we are still evolving. I do acknowledge that we might one day deploy technology to shape this process, but right now that is not happening … I declare this claim to be bullshit.

Claim: “Machines are becoming smarter than we are, but Tallinn warns that if we are not careful this could lead to a “sudden global ecological catastrophe”

There are no self-conscious machines and I suspect we are a very long way from having such machines. We do of course have very complex data processors, but there is no actual intelligence in the human sense. You can cite examples such as Watson, the IBM piece of tin that is claimed to be an AI and won a TV quiz show.  So how did Watson feel about that victory, pleased or happy? Nope, neither because Watson has no feelings, it is just a very complex rules engine that parses human speech, does a lookup in a database and then rapidly renders the result. Watson is not a form of silicon life, do not be fooled.

As for the connection between smart machines leading to a “sudden global ecological catastrophe”. I’m truly struggling to grasp the connection. We are of course in the process of buggering up the current global climate, and will probably not avert a radical change, and so when such a disruption comes we will no doubt adapt (which is something we do quite well), but as for “smart” machines leading to and ecological catastrophe … nope, I’m not parsing any connection there.

So does he have a paper to present on the topic that uses actual data for the conclusions that he presents? No, instead he has rhetroic such as this …

“In my view the fact that computers caught up to humans and completely dominate humans in chess and some other domains already that says there’s evidence that yes in principle they can be better programmers than humans,”

“Once computers can program they basically take over technological progress because already today the majority of technological progress is run by software, by programming.”

The question then is, how can you control something that can actually reprogram itself?

“Once you acknowledge that human brains are basically made of atoms and acknowledge that atoms are governed by simple laws of physics then there is no reasoning principle why computers couldn’t do anything that people are doing and we don’t really see any evidence that this is not the case,”

Chess is simply a set of rules, and so having a rules engine that can handle such algorithms rapidly is not a surprise. What is a surprise is his belief that this makes these chunks of tin a human competitor; that is simply daft. There are no self-aware machines just around the corner, this guy has watched way too many terminator movies. You cannot (in this universe) make a rational leap from chess algorithms to super-human intelligences taking control away from people.

What of course would be truly scary is for some to take such groundless claims seriously. It is of course a neat way to drum up some media attention and perhaps even drum up funding, but alas the disconnect with reality is strong in this one.

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