Artificial Intelligence is constantly evolving. What can we do to keep it under our control?

By Konstantinos Kakavoulis

In Saudi Arabia it is believed that it scarcely rains. The truth is that it rains quite often. However, due to high temperatures, the raindrops evaporate before they reach the ground and people become aware of them. People feel the rain only on the rare occasions, when it rains a lot. On these occasions, there is also frequent flooding.

Picture from flooding in Saudi Arabia. Source: SahilOnline

The evolution of Artificial Intelligence does not differ much from the example of the rain in Saudi Arabia. We tend to believe that Artificial Intelligence evolves rarely. In reality, it is constantly evolving.

The small improvements which are achieved daily do not reach us. Only on the occasion of an important achievement we realize that Artificial Intelligence is indeed advancing. These big technological “booms” frighten us, like heavy rainfalls frighten the Saudi Arabians.

We are not used to them, because they rarely occur. If we paid more importance to the small progress achieved daily, we would not be that astonished. We would understand that technological achievements are the logical consequences of such progress.

The question is: what can we do to avoid the “flooding”, which might stem from the evolution of Artificial Intelligence?

Stuart Russel, one of the most prominent researchers in the field of Artificial Intelligence, had noted: Let us assume that there is 10% possibility that we achieve Super Intelligence within the next 50 years. Shouldn’t we start working now, so that we make sure that we will be able to hold Super Intelligence within our control?”

Indeed, there is no reason for us to wait until the “floods” come to face their consequences. We can create infrastructure, which will protect us. This infrastructure is nothing else than a regulatory framework, which will not restrict technological progress, but will protect the people.

Artificial Intelligence does not advance as fast as we might fear. The inventors of Artificial Intelligence as we know it today, believed that within 10 years they would be able to create a computer which would be able to beat a world-class chess player. This took 40 years to happen.

They also thought that in 10 years they would be able to create a computer, which would be able to understand human speech and respond to it in any existing human language. They believed this back in 1956. Until today it has not been fully achieved, although translating applications are constantly evolving.

Finally, in the field of Computer Vision, the experts estimated that teaching a computer program to classify photos according to their content was an appropriate summer project for a Master student.

However, 62 years later, although Computer Vision constitutes one of the biggest success stories in Artificial Intelligence, this task has not been adequately fulfilled.

Of course, there are examples of achievements of Artificial Intelligence which have been accomplished a lot earlier than expected. For instance, two years ago the experts estimated that for a computer to be able to beat a champion of the board game Go, 10 more years would be needed. Nevertheless, last year the AlphaGo computer managed to beat the Go world champion in all of their three encounters. The achievement of AlphaGo opens up new opportunities for Artificial Intelligence but is the exception rather than the rule.

Therefore, we may have more time than we believe to get adequately prepared for the progress in Artificial Intelligence. We might neither know what the future holds nor be able to predict it. However, we should not demonize the progress of Artificial Intelligence under any circumstances.

Scientists often bear responsibility for that; they often discourage the public from getting involved with Artificial Intelligence topics, claiming that since they do not know how Artificial Intelligence works, their opinion should not be taken into account. The progress in Artificial Intelligence influence the lives of us all. We should all participate in the discussion on their use. The first step for this to get informed.

If the inhabitants of Saudi Arabia could see the raindrops, before they evaporated, the might have taken more appropriate safeguards to get protected from the floods. If we know that it is “raining” technological advancements, it is worth following them; this way we can take all the appropriate measures on time to keep the situation under our control.

Under no occasion should we try to predict or criticize the progress in Artificial Intelligence. When we try to do so without possessing the adequate knowledge, it is reasonable that scientists do not seriously taken into account our opinion.

Through the State and the pertinent authorities we should be able to explain to the scientists which of the methods they use are socially acceptable and which are not. We should care about the results of their research -not the results we deem possible, but the real results- and see if we consider them acceptable. The State should legislate on this direction, taking into account the public opinion and the ethics it stands for.