The world is on the cusp of an AI revolution. Companies around the world are already using the technology to help do everything from parse medical records to teach cars to drive themselves. Robots can recognise faces, the sound of your voice, translate foreign languages, trade stocks and play chess. They may well have got the trick down pat, but one-trick ponies they remain.
Humans, on the other hand, are not specialists. Our forte is versatility. What other animal comes close as the jack of all trades? Put humans in a situation where a problem must be solved and, if they can leave their smartphones alone for a moment, they will draw on experience to work out a solution.
DeepMind’s latest AI, has cleared one of the important hurdles on the way to human-level Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) . Most AIs can perform only one trick because to learn a second, they must forget the first. The problem, known as “catastrophic forgetting”, occurs because the neural network at the heart of the AI overwrites old lessons with new ones.
There is no doubt that thinking machines, if they ever truly emerge, would be powerful and valuable. Researchers talk of pointing them at the world’s greatest problems: poverty, inequality, climate change and disease.
But they could also be a danger. Serious AI researchers, and plenty of prominent figures who know less of the art, have raised worries about the moment when computers surpass human intelligence. Looming on the horizon is the “Singularity”, a time when super-AIs improve at exponential speed, causing such technological disruption that poor, unenhanced humans are left in the dust.