Is AI worth the risk?

Is AI worth it, or will it end our species?
17 October 2017

Interview with 

Simon Beard, Centre for the study of Existential Risk, Hitesh Sanganee, AstraZeneca, Henry Shevlin, Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence , Peter Clarke, Resurgo Genetics


USA at night


Chris Smith brought the panel back together for the final question: is AI worth the risk? First up is Hitesh Sanganee of AstraZeneca...

Hitesh - Yeah. Because for us it’s all about patients and helping patients. I’m a big fan of  digitisation of  healthcare in general and wearables etc., and I’ve seen lots of companies outside using it to predict heart failure for example. I think that’s going to help people that might have that disease. Also we’re seeing it used, for example, taking data and combining data. The question around consciousness is only as good as the data you give it and I think combining and putting it into a useful for intelligence, I guess, to be generated is very impactful. I think it’s going to help patients to me. So yes.

Chris - Henry?

Henry - I think artificial intelligence is the greatest opportunity in human history so far. It could easily go horribly wrong, or it could be the thing that really marks the moment of our species growing out of it’s infancy, particularly I think once we start looking at possibilities like super intelligence, building AI that’s actually smarter than us. Then it’s really hard to see past that point and imagine what an amazing future that could hold. It’s not, I think, farfetched to think that once we start to get the kind of incredible research tools provided by artificial intelligence at the level of humans or beyond, then we might start to conquer things like ageing disease, and even start thinking about things like human immortality. This is also connected to another area where AI could potentially change our species beyond recognition, which is the idea that we might ourselves become AIs at some point. In the sense we might upload our minds or augment ourselves, and that is a frightening but also very exciting possibility.

Chris - Simon; do you think it’s worth the risk?

Simon - I think you need to realise that we’re not in a risk/benefit mindset; this is a risk/risk mindset. At the moment humanity is facing huge risks from climate change, from pandemics, from other kinds of merging technology, from nuclear weapons. And one of the things that AI offers us is, actually, a way out of many of those other risks. A way towards civilisational resilience which we can count on and to my mind that is the real prize that AI gives us is it could be our best bet to survive as a species, that we wouldn’t give up on it. Now, of course, with any risk/risk tradeoff things could turn out wrong. It could be that we would have survived other existential risks that we face and AI poses our undoing. But, from the evidence that we have at the moment, it does not seem like developing AI is more risky of the options that are available to us. So, on that basis, I’m happy to say yes it is.

Chris - And Peter, in the words of a famous shampoo brand - do you think it’s worth it?

Peter - I think it’s going to transform the world and I think that done in the right way it will transform the world into something amazing and could make such a massive, positive force. But I also think that if handled badly it could go wrong in so many ways as well. So, we’re at a really delicate point in history - how we move forward from this point and use this technology and make sure that we make the most of it’s potential and guard against the worst of it’s potential on the other side is really going to define how human history progresses from here.


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