It seems not to matter to the masses, the multitudinous warnings issued in the form of dystopian and science fiction over the darker side of the rise of Artificial Intelligence (or, AI) — technology not only capable of rapid learning, but likely to outpace our own human intelligence less than a decade from now — so, billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk and a host of scientists and others have again done just that, in the form of a new documentary-cum-horrifying-prognostication, asking — rather, challenging — viewers to fully consider, Do You Trust This Computer?
Ubiquitous though advanced technology has become around the planet, the brevity of the question belies its bottomless depth — and in an age where AI surreptitiously grew to be commonplace, such as in everyday, pervasive platforms like Facebook, Google, and Twitter — the answer deserves infinitely greater consideration than a simple yes or no.
“If one company or small group of people manages to develop god-like superintelligence, they could take over the world,” Musk states in the film, adding,
“At least when there’s an evil dictator, that human is going to die. But for an AI, there will be no death — it would live forever. And then you would have an immortal dictator from which we could never escape.”
But if such a scenario sounds out-of-touch or too far-fetched (even if, in actuality, it isn’t), Stanford Professor Michal Kosinski — also a psychometrics researcher who developed a means of analyzing individuals using Facebook, which now-notorious Cambridge Analytica employed in putatively influencing the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the U.K.’s contentious Brexit campaign — discusses a prospective jaw-dropping misuse of personal data in conjunction with AI, even likelier to occur, sooner.
“Psychometrics is trying to measure psychological traits, such as personality, intelligence, political views, and so on,” Kosinski explains. “Now, traditionally, those traits were measured using tests and questions.”
He continues, “Our idea was that instead of tests and questions, we could simply look at the digital footprints of behaviors we’re all living behind” — as in, what do social media habits really say about a person — “to understand openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism.”
And it takes precious little data — a tiny digital footprint — to accurately size up an individual’s beliefs, interests, ideologies, and to predict their behavior.
“We are training deep-learning networks to infer intimate traits — people’s political views, personality, intelligence, sexual orientation — just from an image of someone’s face.
“Now, think about countries that are not so free and open-minded. If you can reveal people’s religious views or political views or sexual orientation — based on only profile pictures — this could be an issue, literally, of life and death.”
Grimly, Kosinski then asserts, “I think there’s no going back.”
With the revelation Cambridge Analytica’s vast amassed data on tens of millions, if not billions, of people — devoid of user consent — may have been compromised, including into the hands of the nefarious, there is indeed no going back.
While the documentary offers a phenomenal purview of Artificial Intelligence employed across a massive if monstrous scale, the message is presented in light of benefits the technology could work toward — so long as ethics were industriously applied. Advancements in the medical field, specifically surgery, for instance, comprise an undeniable benefit of machine learning taking up human slack. Workforce automation might free humans to pursue other interests, contributing to society in other ways.
But at what cost?
Is AI — a mostly unregulated, free-for-all industry, of paramount interest to world militaries — an advancement we’ll come to regret?
Well over six-thousand individuals learned in the field penned a letter warning Artificial Intelligence must be reined in before the world regrets it posited the need to employ fundamental, universal ethics and democratic thought in future development — AI is, after all, here to stay — but with the entire digitally-connected world’s information floating about the ether, that bad actors already have a detailed portrait of whomever they wish is a dubious given.
It matters little, in fact, if one’s digital footprint isn’t ostentatious, forthcoming, and overt — the harvested data is sufficient for use by malevolent powers — whether or not those powers have yet to metastasize from benevolent to maleficent.
Perhaps humanity’s most perilous folly will forever be its eagerness to embrace advancement without exacting deliberation of consequence — ethically, morally, legally speaking — and the convenience technology, social media, apps, and the rest amount to the grandest of blind spots.
Artificial Intelligence could save the planet from complete annihilation; however — if the warnings of its terrifying potential misuses aren’t heeded, post haste — it could as readily spell catastrophe, on an unfathomable scale.
Do you still trust this computer?
The documentary is available through Sunday evening for free on its website, at this link.
Image: ShutterStock/Willyam Bradberry.