fascinating issue raised at the end of the article. Could Marx and Lenin still be right? Could the elites own all the means of production through AI slavery?
I’m not very concerned about unintended consequences in the types of AI I am developing, using an approach called neuroevolution. I create virtual environments and evolve digital creatures and their brains to solve increasingly complex tasks. The creatures’ performance is evaluated; those that perform the best are selected to reproduce, making the next generation. Over many generations these machine-creatures evolve cognitive abilities.
Right now we are taking baby steps to evolve machines that can do simple navigation tasks, make simple decisions, or remember a couple of bits. But soon we will evolve machines that can execute more complex tasks and have much better general intelligence. Ultimately we hope to create human-level intelligence.
Along the way, we will find and eliminate errors and problems through the process of evolution. With each generation, the machines get better at handling the errors that occurred in previous generations. That increases the chances that we’ll find unintended consequences in simulation, which can be eliminated before they ever enter the real world.
Another possibility that’s farther down the line is using evolution to influence the ethics of artificial intelligence systems. It’s likely that human ethics and morals, such as trustworthiness and altruism, are a result of our evolution – and factor in its continuation. We could set up our virtual environments to give evolutionary advantages to machines that demonstrate kindness, honesty and empathy. This might be a way to ensure that we develop more obedient servants or trustworthy companions and fewer ruthless killer robots.
While neuroevolution might reduce the likelihood of unintended consequences, it doesn’t prevent misuse. But that is a moral question, not a scientific one. As a scientist, I must follow my obligation to the truth, reporting what I find in my experiments, whether I like the results or not. My focus is not on determining whether I like or approve of something; it matters only that I can unveil it.
We all, individually and as a society, need to prepare for that nightmare scenario, using the time we have left to demonstrate why our creations should let us continue to exist. Or we can decide to believe that it will never happen, and stop worrying altogether. But regardless of the physical threats superintelligences may present, they also pose a political and economic danger. If we don’t find a way to distribute our wealth better, we will have fueled capitalism with artificial intelligence laborers serving only very few who possess all the means of production.