As if we didn't already have enough to worry about when it comes to artificially intelligent machines being able to perform many tasks faster and better than humans can, potentially stealing our jobs in the future, and presenting what some technologists worry is an existential threat to humanity, now it appears AI will soon be able to match humans at being, well, human, too.
An Australian AI expert, Toby Walsh, said during the Festival of Dangerous Ideas in Sydney recently that he thinks AI will learn and possibly match human traits like creativity, emotional intelligence and adaptability in less than 50 years. And Walsh — a Scientia Professor of Artificial Intelligence at UNSW Sydney — predicts robots will be as smart as humans by the year 2062.
But don't worry about them ultimately presenting some sort of threat or something as drastic as potentially wiping out mankind, he adds. 'We've been rather mislead by this idea that the robots are going to take over,' Walsh told Time Out. 'The robots have no desires of their own, they do exactly what we tell them to. I'm much more worried about incompetence than malevolence – that we'll get the machines to do something, and we haven't thought carefully about how it's going to interact with our complex world … Healthcare, transport, how we manufacture things, how we educate ourselves, how we go out and play — it's going to touch almost every aspect of our lives.'
It's interesting to think about this other side of increasingly smarter machines and to ask questions about the fundamental nature of consciousness and emotion. These right-brain characteristics of being human, things like creativity and emotion and the like — we like to think they will save us or somehow set us apart from machines that are radically smarter, faster and better at us in other things. But if they eventually get to be as creative as us to complement their already stellar analytical capabilities, what then?
When Walsh says he's worried, though, it's not about what the machines will do. It's us he's worried about. Mankind, he says, needs to do a better job of creating machines and AI systems that are aligned with our values now.
'The only hope we have to deal with all these wicked problems like climate change, increasing inequality and the ongoing refugee problem, is if we embrace technology and use the world's resources in a better, more sustainable way,' he told Time Out. 'The future is a product of the decisions we make today. Society shapes technology and technology can shape society.'