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Scientists Worry Machines May Outsmart Man

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PR2 prototype robot

Willow Garage's PR2 prototype robot can locate and plug itself into an electrical outlet to recharge itself.

Credit: Ken Conley / Willow Garage

Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) have spurred a group of computer scientists to consider whether research that might lead to a loss of human control over computer-based systems that encompass an expanding portion of society's workload should be limited. They are worried that further innovation could have serious, negative repercussions, such as making a widening spectrum of jobs obsolete and forcing people to learn to live with machines that increasingly mimic human behavior. A conference organized by the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) was especially focused on the potential that AI systems could be exploited by criminals as soon as they were created.

AAAI president Eric Horvitz stressed that computer scientists must respond to the possibility of AI systems spinning out of control. "Something new has taken place in the past five to eight years," he said. "Technologists are replacing religion, and their ideas are resonating in some ways with the same idea of the Rapture." The AAAI will furnish a report that will attempt to evaluate the potential of "the loss of human control of computer-based intelligences," and also deal with socioeconomic, ethical, and legal ramifications along with the likely shifts in human-computer relationships.

Horvitz said the panel was seeking ways to direct research so that technology enhances society instead of steering it toward disaster. "My sense was that sooner or later we would have to make some sort of statement or assessment, given the rising voice of the technorati and people very concerned about the rise of intelligent machines," he said.

View a video of the voice-based system designed to question medical patients and to respond with empathy.

From The New York Times
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