Humans and Artificial Intelligence

By Grier, David Alan | International New York Times, August 22, 2015 | Go to article overview

Humans and Artificial Intelligence


Grier, David Alan, International New York Times


A call to consider how far artificial intelligence technology should go in the quest to make life better.

Machines of Loving Grace. The Quest for Common Ground Between Humans and Robots. By John Markoff. Illustrated. 378 pages. Ecco/ HarperCollins Publishers. $26.99.

Technologists rarely question technology in public. Yet last fall Tesla's chief executive, Elon Musk, suggested we might need to regulate the development of artificial intelligence "just to make sure that we don't do something very foolish." Mr. Musk found support. Bill Gates said he didn't "understand why some people are not concerned" about what he called "super intelligence." Stephen Hawking claimed that "the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race."

Over the past decade or so, we have seen some impressive demonstrations of artificial intelligence, including Watson, IBM's "Jeopardy" champion; Siri, Apple's personal assistant; and Google's self-driving car. We have also seen some clear evidence that smart technology is restructuring the industrial economy by doing certain kinds of work that require skill and judgment we traditionally associate with flesh and blood. We may not need to follow Mr. Musk's call for regulation, but we probably need to assess the state of artificial intelligence and robotics, a task that John Markoff describes as looking for "common ground between humans and robots" in "Machines of Loving Grace."

The development and deployment of any technology is a complex process that involves a host of people with different interests, including researchers, engineers, regulators, bankers, business leaders and others.Mr. Markoff, a science and technology reporter for The New York Times, tries to find his common ground by focusing on the researchers who create the basic technology and how, he writes, they "have grappled with questions about the deepening relationship between human and machine." He concedes that designers and engineers are removed from the ultimate application of their work. They "grow uncomfortable when asked about the potential consequences of their inventions and frequently deflect questions with gallows humor."

To help us understand these researchers, Mr. Markoff divides the field into two categories. The first consists of work that is trying to duplicate human behavior with computing systems: artificial intelligence. The second category, intelligence augmentation, consists of work that attempts to expand human abilities. …

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