Future AI technology: nightmare or nirvana?

Jeremy Leggett’s “FUTURE TODAY” new website offers a remarkable compilation of visual and short text slides that raise fundamental questions. This synthesis of ideas and predictions about the exploding power of AI (artificial intelligence) is one entry on the website that is extremely comprehensive and pretty frightening. Many links can be made from this compilation. For example, to the ASILOMAR conference that formulated 23 principles for ‘Benefical AI’ in January 2017. Even Henry Kissinger is deeply concerned about AI running our of control as this Atlantic article shows.

ASILOMAR Research Issues

1) Research Goal: The goal of AI research should be to create not undirected intelligence, but beneficial intelligence.

2) Research Funding: Investments in AI should be accompanied by funding for research on ensuring its beneficial use, including thorny questions in computer science, economics, law, ethics, and social studies, such as:

  • How can we make future AI systems highly robust, so that they do what we want without malfunctioning or getting hacked?
  • How can we grow our prosperity through automation while maintaining people’s resources and purpose?
  • How can we update our legal systems to be more fair and efficient, to keep pace with AI, and to manage the risks associated with AI?
  • What set of values should AI be aligned with, and what legal and ethical status should it have?

3) Science-Policy Link: There should be constructive and healthy exchange between AI researchers and policy-makers.

4) Research Culture: A culture of cooperation, trust, and transparency should be fostered among researchers and developers of AI.

5) Race Avoidance: Teams developing AI systems should actively cooperate to avoid corner-cutting on safety standards.

Ethics and Values

6) Safety: AI systems should be safe and secure throughout their operational lifetime, and verifiably so where applicable and feasible.

7) Failure Transparency: If an AI system causes harm, it should be possible to ascertain why.

8) Judicial Transparency: Any involvement by an autonomous system in judicial decision-making should provide a satisfactory explanation auditable by a competent human authority.

9) Responsibility: Designers and builders of advanced AI systems are stakeholders in the moral implications of their use, misuse, and actions, with a responsibility and opportunity to shape those implications.

10) Value Alignment: Highly autonomous AI systems should be designed so that their goals and behaviors can be assured to align with human values throughout their operation.

11) Human Values: AI systems should be designed and operated so as to be compatible with ideals of human dignity, rights, freedoms, and cultural diversity.

12) Personal Privacy: People should have the right to access, manage and control the data they generate, given AI systems’ power to analyze and utilize that data.

13) Liberty and Privacy: The application of AI to personal data must not unreasonably curtail people’s real or perceived liberty.

14) Shared Benefit: AI technologies should benefit and empower as many people as possible.

15) Shared Prosperity: The economic prosperity created by AI should be shared broadly, to benefit all of humanity.

16) Human Control: Humans should choose how and whether to delegate decisions to AI systems, to accomplish human-chosen objectives.

17) Non-subversion: The power conferred by control of highly advanced AI systems should respect and improve, rather than subvert, the social and civic processes on which the health of society depends.

18) AI Arms Race: An arms race in lethal autonomous weapons should be avoided.

Longer-term Issues

19) Capability Caution: There being no consensus, we should avoid strong assumptions regarding upper limits on future AI capabilities.

20) Importance: Advanced AI could represent a profound change in the history of life on Earth, and should be planned for and managed with commensurate care and resources.

21) Risks: Risks posed by AI systems, especially catastrophic or existential risks, must be subject to planning and mitigation efforts commensurate with their expected impact.

22) Recursive Self-Improvement: AI systems designed to recursively self-improve or self-replicate in a manner that could lead to rapidly increasing quality or quantity must be subject to strict safety and control measures.

23) Common Good: Superintelligence should only be developed in the service of widely shared ethical ideals, and for the benefit of all humanity rather than one state or organization.


“Natural” Capital?

In his latest post, George Monbiot challenges the market-driven notion of putting a price on the features of the natural environment that the dynamic of the market has served to degrade by ignoring the costs to nature of the unbridled race for economic, demographic and fossil-fueled technological growth. As usual Monbiot eloquently expresses what I have long been concerned about.  Seeing nature and other species merely as “resources” in the service of wealth creation, underpinned by massive debt-creation, is one among several of humanity’s grave errors as humans seek to dominate and control the natural world. Maybe we would better see ourselves as the “unnatural” species that is rapidly replacing the natural with the artificial “Machine World”.

Energy transition under way

Jeremy Williams in his blog today features fossil fuel companies that are finally transforming their business  ambitions away from oil and gas extraction and its consequent CO2 emissions. Whether it is too late to go all the way to leaving these energy resources in the ground is the big question, given the continuing expansion of demand as population and affluence continue to grow rapidly. In Poland the explosion of car ownership continues and the prevalence of SUVs is particularly noticeable. This is just one of many indicators of the apparent lack of awareness of or concern for the long-term consequences of the use of cheap fossil energy that has brought so many advantages to the present generations but that threatens the very existence of generations to come.

Monopoly overcomes anti-trust laws in the US

This video from Robert Reich deals with the rarely discussed domination of the US economy by giant corporations that, unlike in the EU,  are  unchallenged by anti-trust legislation to ensure open competition that tends to keep prices lower and wages higher. The fact that media outlets are also corporate-owned and increasingly monopolies of fewer and fewer corporations, may have something to do with the low profile in the media of the trend towards this concentration of economic power in fewer and fewer hands.

Sustainable tourism?

On a recent holidat trip tp the Netherlands to see the height of the tulip season, we drove 2500 kms on the return journey. While on Noordvijk’d extensive beach, it was impossible not to notice the large number of con-trails from jets criss-crossing the  blue sky at  high altitudes, some heading for nearby Schiphol Airport. We  had driven rather than flown from Poland because the cost of petrol was siginificantly lower than two air fares. Thus, like most travellers, we placed a higher priority on costs than n the impact of our journey on the environment. The carbon footprint of our choice of transport, let alone all other supply chains that  underpinned a pleasant holiday, was not even  calculated. Such other impacts  include accommodation, food and beverages, souvenirs, clothing, cosmetics and other goods. “Let them that be without sin cast the first stone” as the Bible says!

A new study reported here concludes that tourism contributes 8% of global carbon emissions when the supply chains involved are calculated. Tourism is expanding at a much faster rate than GDP growth.  The researchers identified carbon flows between 160 countries from 2009 to 2013. Their results show that tourism-related emissions increased by around 15% over that period, from 3.9 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon-dioxide equivalent (CO₂-e) to 4.5Gt. This rise primarily came from tourist spending on transport, shopping and food. They estimate that our growing appetite for travel and a business-as-usual scenario would increase carbon emissions from global tourism to about 6.5Gt by 2025. This increase is largely driven by rising incomes, making tourism highly income-elastic and carbon-intensive.