The Myths and Conundrums of Artificial Intelligence

Xin Chen, Reporter

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“Everything we love about civilization is a product of intelligence, so amplifying our human intelligence with artificial intelligence has the potential of helping civilization flourish like never before – as long as we manage to keep the technology beneficial.” This is a famous quote from Max Tegmark, the president of the Future of Life Institute. Indeed, the human civilization is undergoing a dramatic transformation with the rising of artificial intelligence (or AI). From Siri to mobile check deposit, from Google map to virtual nursing assistant, artificial intelligent is almost everywhere to facilitate our life, yet how much do we genuinely know about it?

Artificial intelligence is commonly referred to the ability of a digital computer or computer-controlled robot to perform tasks associated with intelligent beings. Today the artificial intelligence that most of us are familiar with is known as narrow AI or weak AI, which is designed to perform a specific problem solving or reasoning task. Despite being so prevalent nowadays, narrow AI is not the researchers’ long-term goal. Instead, their ultimate objective is to create artificial general intelligence (AGI, also named as strong AI or full AI), which is the design that allows a machine to perform a full range of cognitive abilities at human level.

Many of us might heard of the competition between the world chess champion Garry Kasparov and IBM computer Deep Blue, which marked a historical moment, as it stands as the first instance that a computer chess-playing system won a match against a reigning world champion. The landmark event demonstrated the ability of computers to handle complex calculation and foreshadowed the enormous potential of computer science. With researches lasting over half a century, AI technology has become so pervasive that its application covers multidimensional fields including risk analysis in finance, autonomous vehicle in transportation, medical diagnosis in clinics, precise targeting in online advertisement, etc.

While some people would marvel at the powerful algorithm of computers, others pondered if narrow AI was capable of outperforming human cognition in one aspect, it’s possible that AGI could outperform human at every cognitive task. What follows the thought is the hypothetical scene portrayed in fiction movies — robots are so much more powerful that they will eventually take over the world! Such concerns place AI technology under a series of controversies. If AGI is achievable someday in the future, should it be designed with conscious and sentient traits in order to process thoughts and perceive human emotions? If yes, what responsibility should human assume regarding AGI machines? Will the self-awareness and sapientia eventually jeopardize ourselves?

Various ethical considerations combining with technological limitation have slowed the progression of AGI since AI research was launched in 1956. Nevertheless, most investigators remain optimistic that AGI could potentially be achieved in the 21st century. The ongoing research also fosters a number of discoveries on psychology and neurophysiology as researchers try to emulate human into a machinery. There is still a long run on the path toward AGI, as the future generation, the myth and conundrum will eventually be left to us to unravel.

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