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Artificial Intelligence: A Blessing or a Threat for Humanity?

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In August 2018, Czech Technical University in Prague simultaneously hosted several conferences on AI-related topics: human-level AI, artificial general intelligence, biologically inspired cognitive architectures, and neural-symbolic integration technology. Reports were presented by prominent experts representing global leaders in artificial intelligence: Microsoft, Facebook, DARPA, MIT and Good AI. The reports described the current status of AI developments, identified the problems facing society that have yet to be resolved, and highlighted the threats arising from the further development of this technology. In this review, we will attempt to briefly identify the main problems and threats, as well as the possible ways to counter these threats.

To begin with, let us provide definitions for some of the terms that are commonly used in conjunction with AI in various contexts: weak, or specialized, AI; autonomous AI; adaptive AI; artificial general intelligence (AGI); strong AI; human-level AI; and super-human AI.

Weak, or specialized, AI is represented by all existing solutions without exception and implies the automated solution of one specific task, be it a game of Go or face recognition with CCTV footage. Such systems are incapable of independent learning for the purpose of solving other problems: they can only be reprogrammed by humans to do so.

Autonomous AI implies a system’s ability to function for protracted periods of time without the intervention of a human operator. This could be a solar-powered UAV performing a multi-day flight from Champs-Elysees in Paris to Moscow’s Red Square or back, independently selecting its route and recharging stops while avoiding all sorts of obstacles.

Adaptive AI implies the system’s ability to adapt to new situations and obtain knowledge that it did not possess at the time of its creation. For example, a system originally tasked with conducting conversations in Russian could independently learn new languages and apply this knowledge in conversation if it found itself in a new language environment or if it deliberately studied educational materials on these new languages.

Artificial general intelligence implies adaptability of such a high level that the corresponding system could, given the appropriate training, be used in a wide variety of activities. New knowledge could either be self-taught or learned with the help of an instructor. It is in this same sense that the notion of strong AI is often used in opposition to weak or specialized AI.

Human-level AI implies a level of adaptability comparable to that of a human being, meaning that the system is capable of mastering the same skills as a human and within comparable periods of time.

Super-human AI implies even greater adaptability and learning speeds, allowing the system to masker the knowledge and skills that humans would never be able to.

Fundamental Problems Associated with Creating a Strong AI

Despite the multitude of advances in neuroscience, we still do not know exactly how natural intelligence works. For this same reason, we do not know for sure how to create artificial intelligence (AI). There are a number of known problems that need to be resolved, as well as differing opinions as to how these problems should be prioritized. For example, Ben Goertzel, who heads the OpenCog and SingularityNET, open-source international projects to create artificial intelligence, believes that all the requisite technology for creating an artificial general intelligence has already been developed, and that the only thing necessary is to combine them in a way that would ensure the necessary synergy. Other experts are more sceptical, pointing out that many of the problems that we will discuss below need to be resolved first. Also, expert estimates for when a strong AI may be created vary greatly, from ten or so years to several decades from now.

On the other hand, the emergence of a strong AI is logical in the framework of the general process of evolution as the emergence of molecules from atoms and cells from molecules, the creation of the central nervous system from specialized cells, the emergence of social structure, the development of speech and writing systems and, ultimately, the nascence of information technology. Valentin Turchin demonstrates the logic behind the increasing complexity of information structures and organizational mechanisms in the process of evolution. Unless humanity perishes first, this evolution will be inevitable and will, in the long run, rescue humankind, as only non-biological lifeforms will be able to survive the inevitable end of the Solar System and preserve our civilization’s information code in the Universe.

It is important to realize that the creation of a strong AI does not necessarily require the understanding of how the natural intelligence works, just as the development of a rocket does not necessarily require understanding how a bird flies. Such an AI will certainly be created, sooner or later, in one way or another, and perhaps even in several different ways.

Most experts identify the following fundamental problems that need to be solved before a general or strong AI can be created:

Few-shot learning: systems need to be developed that can learn with the use of a small amount of materials, in contrast to the current deep-learning systems, which require massive amounts of specifically prepared learning materials.

Strong generalization: creating problem recognition technologies allowing for recognizing objects in situations that differ from those in which they were encountered in the learning materials.

Generative learning models: developing learning technologies in which the objects to be memorized are not the features of the object to be recognised, but rather the principles of its formation. This would help in addressing the more profound characteristics of objects, providing for faster learning and stronger generalization.

Structured prediction and learning: developing learning technologies based on the representation of learning objects as multi-layered hierarchical structures, with lower-level elements defining higher level ones. This could prove an alternative solution to the problems of fast learning and strong generalization.

Solving the problem of catastrophic forgetting, which is pertinent to the majority of existing systems: a system originally trained with the use of one class of object and then additionally trained to recognize a new class of objects loses the ability to recognize objects of the original class.

Achieving an incremental learning ability, which implies a system’s ability to gradually accumulate knowledge and perfect its skills without losing the previously obtained knowledge, but rather obtaining new knowledge, with regard to systems intended for interaction in natural languages. Ideally, such a system should pass the so-called Baby Turing Test by demonstrating its ability to gradually master a language from the baby level to the adult level.

Solving the consciousness problem, i.e. coming up with a proven working model for conscious behaviour that ensures effective prediction and deliberate behaviour through the formation of an “internal worldview,” which could be used for seeking optimum behavioural strategies to achieve goals without actually interacting with the real world. This would significantly improve security and the testing of hypotheses while increasing the speed and energy efficiency of such checks, thus enabling a live or artificial system to learn independently within the “virtual reality” of its own consciousness. There are two applied sides to solving the consciousness problem. On the one hand, creating conscious AI systems would increase their efficiency dramatically. On the other hand, such systems would come with both additional risks and ethical problems, seeing as they could, at some point, be equated to the level of self-awareness of human beings, with the ensuing legal consequences.

Potential AI-Related Threats

Even the emergence of autonomous or adaptive AI systems, let alone general or strong AI, is associated with several threats of varying degrees of severity that are relevant today.

The first threat to humans may not necessarily be presented by a strong, general, human-level or super-human AI, as it would be enough to have an autonomous system capable of processing massive amounts of data at high speeds. Such a system could be used as the basis for so-called lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS), the simplest example being drone assassins (3D-printed in large batches or in small numbers).

Second, a threat could be posed by a state (a potential adversary) gaining access to weapons system based on more adaptive, autonomous and general AI with improved reaction times and better predictive ability.

Third, a threat for the entire world would be a situation based on the previous threat, in which several states would enter a new round of the arms race, perfecting the intelligence levels of autonomous weapon systems, as Stanislaw Lem predicted several decades ago.

Fourth, a threat to any party would be presented by any intellectual system (not necessarily a combat system, but one that could have industrial or domestic applications too) with enough autonomy and adaptivity to be capable not only of deliberate activity, but also of autonomous conscious target-setting, which could run counter to the individual and collective goals of humans. Such a system would have far more opportunities to achieve these goals due to its higher operating speeds, greater information processing performance and better predictive ability. Unfortunately, humanity has not yet fully researched or even grasped the scale of this particular threat.

Fifth, society is facing a threat in the form of the transition to a new level in the development of production relations in the capitalist (or totalitarian) society, in which a minority comes to control material production and excludes an overwhelming majority of the population from this sector thanks to ever-growing automation. This may result in greater social stratification, the reduced effectiveness of “social elevators” and an increase in the numbers of people made redundant, with adverse social consequences.

Finally, another potential threat to humanity in general is the increasing autonomy of global data processing, information distribution and decision-making systems growing, since information distribution speeds within such systems, and the scale of their interactions, could result in social phenomena that cannot be predicted based on prior experience and the existing models. For example, the social credit system currently being introduced in China is a unique experiment of truly civilizational scale that could have unpredictable consequences.

The problems of controlling artificial intelligence systems are currently associated, among other things, with the closed nature of the existing applications, which are based on “deep neural networks.” Such applications do not make it possible to validate the correctness of decisions prior to implementation, nor do they allow for an analysis of the solution provided by the machine after the fact. This phenomenon is being addressed by the new science, which explores explainable artificial intelligence (XAI). The process is aided by a renewed interest in integrating the associative (neural) and symbolic (logic-based) approaches to the problem.

Ways to Counter the Threats

It appears absolutely necessary to take the following measures in order to prevent catastrophic scenarios associated with the further development and application of AI technologies.

An international ban on LAWS, as well as the development and introduction of international measures to enforce such a ban.

Governmental backing for research into the aforementioned problems (into “explainable AI ” in particular), the integration of different approaches, and studying the principles of creating target-setting mechanisms for the purpose of developing effective programming and control tools for intellectual systems. Such programming should be based on values rather than rules, and it is targets that need to be controlled, not actions.

Democratizing access to AI technologies and methods, including through re-investing profits from the introduction of intellectual systems into the mass teaching of computing and cognitive technologies, as well as creating open-source AI solutions and devising measures to stimulate existing “closed” AI systems to open their source codes. For example, the Aigents project is aimed at creating AI personal agents for mass users that would operate autonomously and be immune to centralized manipulations.

Intergovernmental regulation of the openness of AI algorithms, operating protocols for data processing and decision-making systems, including the possibility of independent audits by international structures, national agencies and individuals. One initiative in this sense is to create the SingularityNET open-source platform and ecosystem for AI applications.

First published in our partner RIAC

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Air pollution in a tweet: Communicating complex science

MD Staff

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Pant is passionate about communicating science better, combining data and meaningful narratives. Photo by Pallavi Pant

Air pollution is a complex issue that is difficult to communicate to most people. What causes air pollution? How does it affect our children’s cognitive development? What does air pollution have to do with rising temperatures?

Pallavi Pant is an air quality scientist who received her PhD in urban air quality in 2014. Today, she is a staff scientist at the Health Effects Institute in Boston. She is also Social Media Editor with the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology, where she aims to communicate the journal’s work to a broader audience.

“But when it comes to communicating science, it’s vital to get the facts right. Young people like Pallavi—experts in their field with a passion to drive forward clear messages about air pollution, health and climate—are commendable in their ability to communicate the problems and how we can be part of the solution.”

This International Youth Day, themed “transforming education,” we asked Pant why, as a scientist, she feels compelled to tweet. How does she educate and bring complex messages to a non-scientific audience?

What influenced your decision to be a scientist, and is being a woman in this field a challenge?

I grew up in a household where curiosity was encouraged. I remember designing scientific experiments to test hypotheses as a kid with my friends. Throughout high school and college, I took steps towards a career in environmental science. In the early days, I wasn’t sure what aspect I would focus on; air pollution piqued my interest and I spent more time understanding it better. My personal experience living in Delhi—seeing the quality of air change over time—was another key contributing factor. Being a woman in science is fun and exciting, but also poses challenges. Occasionally, it has been difficult to deal with stereotypes that influence people’s interactions. In some instances, it is also about being safe—in the field working alone for example. But overall, I’ve had a good experience, and my mentors have been supportive.

Why do you feel it’s important to communicate science to a general audience?

Huge portions of important scientific research are still behind paywalls, and people are often unable to find accurate, reliable information, especially on digital media. Combined with the need for ‘bite-sized’ information, it is critical that scientists find ways to engage with the public, to dispel myths where they exist, and share useful information. After all, the goal for science is to help move towards a better future, isn’t it? During my PhD program, I started a knowledge platform—Air Quality in India—to publicize and communicate the latest science and policy developments on air pollution. I co-founded a similar effort for South Asia—Air South Asia. It is important that accurate, scientifically valid information is brought to the public. I also give public seminars on the topic of air pollution, and I answer queries from concerned individuals about sources of air pollution and possible impacts on human health. I engage with organizations that work directly with communities and point them towards trusted sources of information. On social media, I post curated content on air pollution.

The Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology is one of the first environmental journals to create its own social media platforms. What influenced this decision?  

When I spoke with the journal editors, it was clear that they were trying to expand the reach and make the information accessible to a broad audience. I had some experience doing that, and this seemed to be an excellent opportunity to expand my skills too! We hope to disseminate new findings from research published in the journal on social media, and get others interested in the field of environmental health.

What is the biggest challenge you face in communicating air pollution science?

When we train as scientists, we are encouraged to speak in scientific terms. The first issue I encountered was to learn to take a minute and think about my choice of words, and how they would be interpreted by a particular audience. Air pollution science is often complex, and it is a hard task to explain the nuance of the science while making it engaging and interesting. For example, air pollutants can be primary [directly emitted] and secondary [formed in atmosphere from other pollutants], and control strategies are very different for both types of pollutants. Communicating this effectively can be challenging. Sometimes, it is only a matter of directing people to the right information. In other cases, some thinking is required. In all cases, the bottom line for me is to make the information relatable for the particular audience.

How do you hope to take your storytelling to a level where it can reach more people?

I am still learning ways to communicate science better, and weave data and stories together to generate meaningful narratives for people. This year, I am hoping to expand a large, open-source database on air pollution in India, set up a mentoring network for women in air quality in the South and continue working to expand the reach of the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology.   

Can you summarize the main threats of air pollution in 140 characters?

Air pollution impacts our health, environment & economy; we need to act both at personal & societal levels to improve the quality of air.  

UN Environment

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3 emerging smart home trends of 2019

MD Staff

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If you’re building a new home, you want it to be stylish, functional, and of course, state of the art with the latest technology advancements. Smart home features are on top of the wish list for homeowners, with 81 percent of homebuyers stating they would favor purchasing a home with smart accessories already installed, according to Digitized House. By building your own home, you get the advantage of these features being integrated seamlessly into the design.

Every year, smart home technology gets better and better, with new trends emerging that make homeowners’ lives easier and more convenient than ever before. Here are some of the top smart home trends of 2019 that you may want to integrate into your building plans:

Smart circuit breakers

For the most part, circuit breaker boxes in traditional homes have remained unchanged for decades. The mysterious gray box in your basement or garage is one that you tend to avoid, but smart design and technology is taking these load centers into the 21st century. Leviton’s new load center with optional internet connectivity sends homeowners real-time monitoring data and customizable alerts to their smart devices.

How does it work? The Leviton Load Center’s smart circuit breakers communicate with a Wi-Fi or Ethernet-enabled data hub to report real-time status. Using the My Leviton App, homeowners can conveniently monitor electrical usage per circuit branch or specific appliance, safely turning breakers off remotely if needed. Smart circuit breakers also report home energy consumption, including historical views by day, month or even year. The My Leviton App also allows users to receive alerts when a circuit breaker trips, or if a circuit is using more energy than usual. They can even set contractors as recipients of these notification and give them secure access to their app’s panel view, allowing them to troubleshoot remotely. No more wondering if the stove was left on — you’ll be able to see instantly.

More than just a simpler way to improve your home’s safety, if you’re concerned about your home’s energy output, Leviton’s smart circuit breakers provide real-time data on how each circuit is performing, as well as information on current and historical costs — so you can make smarter energy choices. Good for the environment and your utility bill. Learn more at www.leviton.com/loadcenter.

Smart comfort

You want to stay comfortable from season to season in your home, but you also want to heat and cool it efficiently. Smart temperature controls are making this easier than ever for homeowners, allowing you to put the temperature decisions virtually on auto-pilot.

Smart thermostats go beyond programmable thermostats by using technology to analyze heating and cooling usage and maximizing efficiency for when you are home versus when you are gone. Connected to an app on your phone, the technology knows through your device’s physical location if you are home or away at work. It records patterns and begins to make suggestions and adjustments based on your lifestyle. These smart temperature controls allow you to make automatic adjustments remotely if necessary, so if you’re headed home early, you can have the house to your ideal temperature by the time you arrive.

With access to historical energy use data and temperature control charts, you’ll be able to analyze your energy footprint and make informed decisions about how you want to use your home’s heating and cooling systems best for your comfort and for the environment.

Smart security systems

It’s amazing what modern home security can do when paired with smart home technology. Not only will your home be safer, but it will be more accessible, too.

For example, pair cameras with intelligent locks to let you know who is at your door even when you’re away. If it’s your child coming home from school, they can be safely let into the house. If it’s a package delivery, you will know right away. If it’s a package thief, you can be alerted and take action through two-way audio before the police arrive. Smart cameras can detect people, animals and things, making your spaces incredibly secure.

Smart sensors are also a big part of the smart home security trend, bringing peace of mind to homeowners. These sensors monitor environmental changes in the home, so you’re alerted to air quality changes and other concerns such as temperature fluctuations or smoke. For example, you’ll know right away if high levels of carbon monoxide are detected, whether you’re at home or away.

Another way to keep your home safe is by making it look like you are home when you are away. Smart lighting options such as the Leviton Decora Smart with Wi-Fi Technology enables you to schedule lights to turn on and off throughout the day from any location all through the convenience of the My Leviton App.

When building a home, it’s important to make it a smart home. These three emerging areas are bringing the home fully into the future with more innovations still to come.

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‘Better Future’ lies in prosperity of startups

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With the slogan of ‘Better Future’, the 25th edition of Iran International Exhibition of Electronics, Computer & E-commerce (ELECOMP 2019) is currently underway at Tehran Permanent International Fairground.

As its name suggests, ELECOMP is a major event in the electronics and computer industry, however, over the past five editions, organizers decided to allocate a part of the exhibition to emerging startups under the title of ELECOM Stars.

And now startups manifest their growth during recent years by presenting their products and services in seven halls of the exhibition.

Startups open new windows of opportunity for removing social, economic and even environmental challenges worldwide and Iran is not an exception.

The motivation and innovation of young entrepreneurs, who are the founders of startups, is a great chance, which should not be ignored by officials and organizations.

ELECOM Stars hosts different ranges of startups from emerging to well-established ones with reasonable prices in order to encourage all the people active in the field of the innovation ecosystem.

Officials are concerned about the attendance of innovators as well as visitors in this edition of the exhibition due to the hard economic situation as a result of the sanctions.

However, startups which fill seven halls of the exhibition show the dynamicity of the innovation ecosystem in these hard days.

During a meeting on the sidelines of the exhibition, the head of the Iranian Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Guild Organization, Mohammad Baqer Asna-Ashari, said that many startups which attended the previous edition of ELECOM Stars requested bigger stands in this edition.

“This shows the growth of startups during a year and also the role of ELECOMP in their activities,” he said.

Startups are stars in the sky of smart Iran

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi said during the opening ceremony of the event that as its name suggests, ELECOM Stars is home to the startups which shine like stars in the sky of smart Iran.

He pointed to No-Afarin, a scheme introduced by the Information and Communication Technology Ministry to support startups last week, with the slogan of ‘Smart Iran, brighter future’, saying, “Today, many tasks can be done by a click and this digital transformation should be considered by managers in order to increase their efficiency and expand markets.”

In the near future, the digital economy would be the prevalent kind of economy worldwide, he said.

“Despite U.S. sanctions, young entrepreneurs in the field of ICT can use the national digital economy in order to expand markets.”

ELECOMP, hope for a better future

As a gathering of the innovation ecosystem of Iran, ELECOMP promises a better future which is realized by the motivation and energy of the young generation.

Startups and their services have a direct impact on the everyday life of people and this is one of their strong points.

Being a part of the private sector, their efficiency is an important factor for their consistency and it is linked with their benefits for the public.

As you can see, startups provide a market which benefits entrepreneurs and people at the same time and perhaps this is the key to their growth during recent years.

The good news is that the government has recognized their unique potentialities and abilities and plan to support them with no direct intervention, an approach that paves the way for the development of the innovation ecosystem in the future.

ELECOMP 2019

In addition to ELECOM Stars, ELECOM Talks, ELECOM Trends, and ELECOM Games are other parts of the event, which runs until July 21.

This edition of ELECOMP has also designed ELECOM Tours in order to provide special programs for visiting the exhibition as well.

This edition of ELECOMP also provides a user-friendly place for startups that bring disability solutions to the market. Tech breakthroughs that empower people with disabilities have set up stands with special features.

Since its first edition in 1995, the event has been providing a unique opportunity for businesses to increase their share of this huge and ever-growing market.

The event provides an opportunity for companies to share knowledge, build vendor relationships and work with prominent companies, active in the field of electronics and computer to enhance their market spread.

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