By JOHN MARKOFF
DEC. 16, 2014
Scientists have begun what they say will be a century-long study of the effects of artificial intelligence on society, including on the economy, war and crime, officials at Stanford University announced Monday.
The project, hosted by the university, is unusual not just because of its duration but because it seeks to track the effects of these technologies as they reshape the roles played by human beings in a broad range of endeavors.
“My take is that A.I. is taking over,” said Sebastian Thrun, a well-known roboticist who led the development of Google’s self-driving car. “A few humans might still be ‘in charge,’ but less and less so.”
Artificial intelligence describes computer systems that perform tasks traditionally requiring human intelligence and perception. In 2009, the president of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, Eric Horvitz, organized a meeting of computer scientists in California to discuss the possible ramifications of A.I. advances. The group concluded that the advances were largely positive and lauded the “relatively graceful” progress.
But now, in the wake of recent technological advances in computer vision, speech recognition and robotics, scientists say they are increasingly concerned that artificial intelligence technologies may permanently displace human workers, roboticize warfare and make of Orwellian surveillance techniques easier to develop, among other disastrous effects.
Dr. Horvitz, now the managing director of the Redmond, Wash., campus of Microsoft Research, last year approached John Hennessy, a computer scientist and president of Stanford University, about the idea of a long-term study that would chart the progress of artificial intelligence and its effect on society. Dr. Horvitz and his wife, Mary Horvitz, agreed to fund the initiative, called the “One Hundred Year Study on Artificial Intelligence.”
In an interview, Dr. Horvitz said he was unconvinced by recent warnings that superintelligent machines were poised to outstrip human control and abilities. Instead, he believes these technologies will have positive and negative effects on society.
“Loss of control of A.I. systems has become a big concern,” he said. “It scares people.” Rather than simply dismiss these dystopian claims, he said, scientists instead must monitor and continually evaluate the technologies.
“Even if the anxieties are unwarranted, they need to be addressed,” Dr. Horvitz said.
He declined to divulge the size of his gift to Stanford, but said it was sufficient to fund the study for a century and suggested the amount might be increased in the future.
Dr. Horvitz will lead a committee with Russ Altman, a Stanford professor of bioengineering and computer science. The committee will include Barbara J. Grosz, a Harvard University computer scientist; Deirdre K. Mulligan, a lawyer and a professor in the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley; Yoav Shoham, a professor of computer science at Stanford; Tom Mitchell, the chairman of the machine learning department at Carnegie Mellon University; and Alan Mackworth, a professor of computer science at the University of British Columbia.
The committee will choose a panel of specialists who will produce a report on artificial intelligence and its effects that is to be published late in 2015.In a white paper outlining the project, Dr. Horvitz described 18 areas that might be considered, including law, ethics, the economy, war and crime. Future reports will be produced at regular intervals.
Dr. Horvitz said that progress in the field of artificial intelligence had consistently been overestimated.
Indeed, news accounts in 1958 described a neural network circuit designed by Frank Rosenblatt, a psychologist at Cornell University. The Navy enthusiastically announced plans to build a “thinking machine” based on the circuits within a year for $100,000. It never happened.
Still, Dr. Horvitz acknowledged, the pace of technological change has accelerated, as has the reach of artificial intelligence. He cited Stuxnet, the malicious program developed by intelligence agencies to attack Iranian nuclear facilities, as an example.
“My grandmother would tell me stories about people running outside when they saw a plane fly over, it was so unusual,” he said. “Now, in a relatively few decades, our worry is about whether we are getting a salt-free meal when we take off from J.F.K. in a jumbo jet.”