Picture from Pixabay
Almost exactly three years ago in 2016, Apple launched the iPhone 7s. Among the usual announcements and upgrades, it revealed the smartphones new portrait mode, which would allow users to take images that are able to isolate the subject and make the background blurry. The idea? A mechanical technique generally achieved by the actual SLR cameras using the kind of wide lens that is able to achieve a shallow depth of field depending on the distance between the subject and the background.
The size of the phones lens being what it is, phone manufacturers dont have the luxury of making phones with interchangeable and big lenses. Their solution was artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, a subset of AI. While the phones lens might struggle to tell the distance between the subject and the background, the AI technology, trained on a massive amount of photographic data, is able to identify the face on a selfie, and then separate that from the background, making the latter blurry.
Portrait mode, or Live Focus as it is known in some Android phones, is just one among many and some far more consequential examples of how artificial intelligence and machine learning has become a ubiquitous part of our lives through our smartphones. Much of this technology has increased our efficiency, whether its a navigation app warning us of traffic and finding us the best route, or for journalists like this one, a transcription app that can transcribe a 30-minute long interview in a matter of seconds.
Over the last few years, platforms like Gmail and their accompanying smartphone apps have become frighteningly good at classifying our email and identifying spam, chain letters and promotional material wed rather not see, and sticking it all into folders where the sun doesnt shine.
There are also the somewhat bothersome and eerily accurately targeted adverts that pop up on our phone apps. Admittedly not always on target; at times even after youve done your online shopping, that item might keep popping up in ads for a few more days. To be fair, marketers for whom this particular kind of advertising works might find them a tad less bothersome.
On the dark side of AI, we have algorithms on social media platforms that only feed us more of what we want to see, sometimes reaffirming the beliefs we hold, with little regard for factual integrity. Harmless when they feed you happy cat videos every hour if thats your groove. Not so harmless when your YouTube feed is a long list of conspiracy videos about how the Clintons run a child trafficking ring, aka Pizzagate.
However, AI goes far beyond phones, and into areas such as smart cars, smart homes, banking, and even employee procurement. The ubiquity of the smartphone as the primary way in which many of us interact with the internet makes it one of the most prevalent ways in which we experience AI. And we expect it to work every time. We expect that Uber app to know the shortest and least busy route, and predict a fair fare without fail. And, indeed, in many instances, our interactions with AI are so predictable as to be unremarkable. However, for most of us not directly working in tech, we have no way of predicting where our ecstatic embrace of AI, and our growing dependency on it, championed by the smartphone, will lead us.
On 28 August 2019, at the World AI Conference in Shanghai, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who has been vocal on his concerns about the future of AI, took to the stage in conversation with Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma.
Well, computers actually are already much smarter than people on so many dimensions. We just keep moving the goalposts. So we used to think like, for example, being good at chess was an example of a smart human. And then Kasparov was crushed by [IBM supercomputer] Deep Blue in 97. That was a long time ago, 22 years. I mean, right now your cellphone could crush the world champion at chess, literally. Go used to be thought of as something that humans were better at than computers. Then Lee Sedol was beaten four to one by [Google DeepMind program] Alpha Zero, said Musk, referring to the popular Chinese-invented board game.
Humans trying to play a computer at Go is like trying to fight Zeus. Its not going to work. Hopeless, we are hopeless. Hopelessly inadequate basically theres just a smaller and smaller corner of what of intellectual pursuits that humans are better than computers. Every year it gets smaller and smaller, and soon will be far surpassed in every single way.
He went on compare the difference between human intelligence and the future of AI to the difference between chimpanzee intelligence and human intelligence, the human being the equivalent of the chimpanzee in this scenario when compared to AI.
In fact, if the difference is only that small, that would be amazing. Probably its much, much greater. So, like, the biggest mistake that I see artificial intelligence researchers making is assuming that theyre intelligent. Yeah, theyre not, compared to AI. A lot of them cannot imagine something smarter than themselves, but AI will be vastly smarter vastly.
Over the past two decades, the idea of a superior artificial intelligence has grown in popularity and is encompassed in the concept of the singularity. Scholars, fiction writers and futurists have defined in different ways the idea that there will come a time where technology will advance so exponentially that the human systems we know will be obliterated. All will become irreversible as a superior machine intelligence takes over in ways we cannot yet imagine.
Other definitions focus on our eventual merging with the machines, to become a different type of being. One of the most prominent voices is futurist, entrepreneur and inventor Ray Kurzweil who wrote the 2005 book The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology. He predicts the exact year of the realisation of the Singularity to be 2045.
We are entering a new era. I call it the Singularity. Its a merger between human intelligence and machine intelligence that is going to create something bigger than itself. Its the cutting edge of evolution on our planet. One can make a strong case that its actually the cutting edge of the evolution of intelligence in general, because theres no indication that its occurred anywhere else. To me, that is what human civilization is all about. It is part of our destiny and part of the destiny of evolution to continue to progress ever faster, and to grow the power of intelligence exponentially.
To contemplate stopping that to think human beings are fine the way they are is a misplaced, fond remembrance of what human beings used to be. What human beings are is a species that has undergone a cultural and technological evolution, and its the nature of evolution that it accelerates, and that its powers grow exponentially, and thats what were talking about. The next stage of this will be to amplify our own intellectual powers with the results of our technology, said Kurzweil in a 2001 talk published on Edge.
Others like Musk are as vocal about the potential pitfalls of AI, and Musk has even written a cautionary open letter about it. Yet, he believes, If you cant beat them, join them.
In July 2019, he announced the first product from his company Neuralink, a computer chip that can be stitched into the human brain, which is able to pick up signals from the brain and translate them into machine-readable code, effectively merging us with machines in one way, and offering up potential health benefits, like helping the blind see, or returning certain functions to body parts that have lost them. At the highly futuristic end, the chip could allow humans to interact directly with AI, sans smartphone.
By Musks own admission, they have tested it on rats and monkeys, and: A monkey has been able to control a computer with its brain, just FYI. Human clinical trials are expected to begin in 2020.
Says Musk: Can we be able to go along for the ride with AI? I mean, I really think that there should be other companies like Neuralink, essentially, to create a high bandwidth interface to the brain. Because right now, we are already a cyborg. People dont realize we are already a cyborg. Because we are so well integrated with our phones and our computers. ML
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