A group of billionaires, including Peter Thiel and Elon Musk, have established a new initiative called OpenAI. It will attempt to accelerate research into artificial intelligence (AI) but in way that assures that the resulting AI will be “friendly.” In my view, this is the most important philanthropic initiative of the year, perhaps of the decade, because it addresses a crucial issue of our time—dangers from the accelerating pace of technological change.
The development of AI can help navigate the rapids ahead, because progress in artificial intelligence can aid in assessing the consequences of social policy for other forms of accelerating technology, such as nanotechnology and biotechnology, more accurately and quickly. More substantial machine intelligence can process data, simulate the world to test the effects of future policy, and offer hypotheses about the effects of past policy.
But as Musk and Stephen Hawking have argued, strong AI– defined as a general purpose intelligence that approximates that of humans—also could threaten humanity, because it might be unable to be controlled. Man will be in the unhappy position of the sorcerer’s apprentice—too weak to master the master machines.