“The Mechanisms That Work For AI Practically Today Aren’t Mirrors Of What Goes On In The Brain”

General Artificial Intelligence is likely possible, but it’s unlikely we’ll create it from the methods we’re now utilizing. It’s not that we can’t use the current blueprint to build something strong enough to greatly improve life—or end it—but it won’t be human-like but rather something that’s at best parallel to humanness. We’ll learn about this pseudo-superintelligence by trial and error for the foreseeable future, which is always perilous when we’re talking about powerful tools that develop gradually—and then all at once.

Terry Winograd, an AI pioneer who had second thoughts, tells Aaron Timms in an OutlineQ&A that correcting the mistakes that develop along the way to more and more profound machine intelligence usually will require a large-scale failure that will elicit a course correction. “You have to wait for breakdowns,” he says, using Facebook’s great election-year failure as an example. An excerpt:


How close do you think we are to achieving “general AI”?

Terry Winograd:

I’m still in the agnostic phase — I’m not sure the techniques we have are going to get to general AI, person-like AI. I believe that nothing’s going on in my head that isn’t physical — so in principle if you could reproduce that physical structure, you could build an AI that’s just like a person. Today’s techniques are not close to that in a direct sense. Everybody knows that my brain does not operate by having trillions of examples. The mechanisms that work for AI practically today aren’t mirrors of what goes on in the brain.


How do you judge this moment in the public debate about AI? Is all this fear-mongering a useful contribution? Is it fair? Is it silly?

Terry Winograd:

Having those questions out for discussion is good, getting large amounts of hysteria and publicity isn’t. The question is: How do you raise these issues in a thoughtful way without saying, “Skynet is upon us”? Musk, I think, is more on the “clickbait” end of the public discussion about AI. But I do believe that AI is facilitating huge problems for our society — not because it’s going to be smart like a person but because robotics is going to change the whole employment picture, and because the use of AI in decision making is going to move decision-making toward directions that may not have the element of human consideration.•


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