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Instead, AlphaGo was designed to win by playing a huge number of games against other programs and adopting the strategies that proved successful. You could say that AlphaGo evolved to be the best Go player in the world, achieving in only two years what natural selection took millions of years to accomplish.
Eric Schmidt , executive chairman of Google’s parent company, the owner of AlphaGo, is enthusiastic about what artificial intelligence (AI) means for humanity. Speaking before the match between Lee and AlphaGo, he said that humanity would be the winner, whatever the outcome, because advances in AI will make every human being smarter, more capable, and “just better human beings.”
Will it? Around the same time as AlphaGo’s triumph, Microsoft’s “chatbot” – software named Taylor that was designed to respond to messages from people aged 18-24 – was having a chastening experience. “Tay” as she called herself, was supposed to be able to learn from the messages she received and gradually improve her ability to conduct engaging conversations. Unfortunately, within 24 hours, people were teaching Tay racist and sexist ideas. When she starting saying positive things about Hitler, Microsoft turned her off and deleted her most offensive messages.
I do not know whether the people who turned Tay into a racist were themselves racists, or just thought it would be fun to undermine Microsoft’s new toy. Either way, the juxtaposition of AlphaGo’s victory and Taylor’s defeat serves as a warning. It is one thing to unleash AI in the context of a game with specific rules and a clear goal; it is something very different to release AI into the real world, where the unpredictability of the environment may reveal a software error that has disastrous consequences.
Nick Bostrom, the director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University, argues in his book Superintelligence that it will not always be as easy to turn off an intelligent machine as it was to turn off Tay. He defines superintelligence as an intellect that is “smarter than the best human brains in practically every field, including scientific creativity, general wisdom, and social skills.” Such a system may be able to outsmart our attempts to turn it off.
Some doubt that superintelligence will ever be achieved.