Stephen Hawking, the great physicist, took to the pages of the UK Independent recently and mused about the perils and promise of artificial intelligent computer. He suggests that they can either be a boon to humankind or its ending.
“One can imagine such technology outsmarting financial markets, out-inventing human researchers, out-manipulating human leaders, and developing weapons we cannot even understand. Whereas the short-term impact of AI depends on who controls it, the long-term impact depends on whether it can be controlled at all.”
Certainly there is a lot of science fiction that backs up Professor Hawking’s fear. The computer in the recent film “Transcendence,” Hal 9000 from “2001,” Skynet from the Terminator movies, and Colossus from “Colossus: The Forbin Project” are all examples of self-aware, AI computers who run amuck in one way or another much to the sorrow of their human creators. The question Hawking poses, will we be creating our own God and if so will it be an angry God? Why take the chance?
Hawking’s plea to start thinking things through before we build an AI computer is certainly not a frivolous one. Can a system of ethics be programed into such a computer, equivalent to Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics that would stop a super AI computer from going full bore Skynet? How about an off or reboot switch that the computer wouldn’t be aware of?
Another possibility would be to separate the super AI computer from most of the human race, say by putting it on an asteroid in space, making sure that it can’t interact with the human race except to handling questioning. It would have to be separated from any sort of Internet and be accessed only by a hard line to an interface device such as a terminal. No wireless accessibility that would allow it to make mischief.
Or, as a final idea, we build two of them, so that one goes evil the other might help the human race defeat the first one. Of course if both become evil, we can always hope they go at one another and leave us alone or, at least, give us time to leave the planet and head out for another world, chastened by out experience.