Artificial intelligence: Prof. Hawking’s fears spark scientific debate

By Richard Ingham and Pascale Mollard, AFP

PARIS–There was the psychotic HAL 9000 computer in ��2001: A Space Odyssey.�� The humanoids which attacked their flesh-and-blood masters in ��I, Robot.��

And, of course, ��The Terminator,�� where a robot is sent into the past to kill a woman whose son will end the tyranny of the machines in the future. Never far from the surface, a dark, dystopian view of artificial intelligence (AI) has returned to the headlines, thanks to British physicist Stephen Hawking. ��The primitive forms of artificial intelligence we already have, have proved very useful. But I think the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race,�� Hawking told the BBC. ��Once humans develop artificial intelligence it would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate,�� he said. But experts interviewed by AFP were divided. Some agreed with Hawking, saying that the threat, even if it were distant, should be taken seriously. Others said his warning seemed overblown. Gains in AI are creating machines that outstrip human performance, Cerqui argued. The trend eventually will delegate responsibility for human life to the machine, she predicted. Nick Bostrom, director of a program on the impacts of future technology at the University of Oxford, said the threat of AI superiority was not immediate. Bostrom pointed to current and near-future applications of AI that were still clearly in human hands �X things such as military drones, driverless cars, robot factory workers and automated surveillance of the Internet.

But, he said, ��I think machine intelligence will eventually surpass biological intelligence �X and, yes, there will be significant existential risks associated with that transition.�� Other experts said ��true�� AI �X loosely defined as a machine that can pass itself off as a human being or think creatively �X was at best decades away, and cautioned against alarmism.