Thursday 24th May 2018

The chatter around ‘artificial intelligence’ is little more than self-induced hysteria

Futurists have been predicting the same outcomes from AI since the 1960s. More recently they've claimed it will be "more important than fire," "billions of times smarter than humans," and could cause the outbreak of World War 3.
Jason Smith
by on 8th May 2018 | Leave a comment
Man vs. robot

Prophecies about AI have been sweeping through the tech sector and the corridors of public institutions in the last few years and the hysteria is seemingly more pronounced with every passing day.

Proponents of AI tout it as the solution to problems we never even knew we had. It will drive our cars, automate our purchases, respond to our enquiries and even park our slippers.

Of course, we could just label these as minor or insignificant technological developments but “artificial intelligence,” a notion that fascinates futurists, sounds far scarier.

What suggests it’s all just hysteria?

To understand just how hysterical proclamations around AI have become, you only need to monitor the day-to-day happenings of the tech sector.

For example, and in an apparent contradiction of their beliefs around the potential of “artificial intelligence” (translation: slightly more helpful code than we wrote previously), in recent months two of the world’s largest tech organizations have:

  • Been forced to add more human beings to their content monitoring efforts;
  • Resorted to sending low-tech postcards to verify access to their services; and
  • Time and time again demonstrated an inability to moderate the content or services on their own platforms, never mind change the world with “artificial intelligence”.

Mark Zuckerberg spent a lot of time during the Congressional hearings referring to “AI tools” as the solution to just about every problem imaginable.

It seemingly failed to cross anyone’s mind why the CEO of an organization reliant on sending postcards to verify peoples’ identity should be deemed an authority on something as lofty and mythical as “artificial intelligence”.

It’s a convenient refuge for Facebook, particularly when it lacks the ability to provide solutions to problems various legislatures have asked it to resolve.

You don’t need to take our word for it

When you consult physicists like Michio Kaku for feedback, you receive a different perspective.

According to Dr. Kaku, AI is only as smart as a “lobotomized, mentally challenged cockroach”.

That sounds about right in our view.

The thing about most AI chatter is that it either involves the proponent taking on the position of fortune teller or mischaracterizing what they’re writing about i.e. giving the product a label of “AI” without defining the label.

Coder codes, computer computes – that’s it.

To be clear, a machine needs to be programmed. It doesn’t have needs, wants or intent, nor is it on course to any time in the distant future.

Machines don’t make choices between options unless those options have been specified by a human programmer. Moreover, a computer doesn’t resemble a brain.

In other words, when your self-driving car can prepare you a cup of coffee, clean your house, submit your tax return and do your dishes, then we can start talking about its intelligence.

At the moment, all we’ve got is a program operating in a context it has been programmed to operate in. And there’s no indication that’s set to change at any point in the future.

This should be apparent, however it won’t stop tomorrow’s article on the next “artificially intelligent” lawnmower.

For these reasons and more, let’s look at the top 5 examples of AI induced hysteria from the last year.

Futurist on CNBC: “AI will be billions of times smarter than humans”

CNBC led with the headline, “A.I. will be ‘billions of times’ smarter than humans and man needs to merge with it,” earlier this year.

In the article the futurist went onto say, “The fact is that AI can go further than humans, it could be billions of times smarter than humans at this point”.

What fact? None were given.

Needless to say, CNBC didn’t provide any example of such technology or even any indication of any technology doing anything a programmer hasn’t asked it to do.

Elon Musk: “AI may start World War 3”

Tesla CEO Elon Musk claimed that Artificial intelligence may cause the outbreak of World War 3 back in September, 2017.

His comments were widely reported by popular news sources.

Musk went onto say: “Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia, but for all humankind. It comes with colossal opportunities, but also threats that are difficult to predict. Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world”.

Note the words “this sphere”; what sphere? What exactly is Musk talking about? Drone, cars, self-parking slippers?

Also, note the hyperbole. It’s not an “opportunity,” it’s a “colossal” opportunity. It’s not merely about leading in technology but “ruling the world”.

When an article contains spin, there’s an attempt on the part of the author to sell you something, be it an ideology, a product or an organization.

Reality doesn’t need to be sold, it just is.

AI will take 50 percent of jobs in existence in 20 years

In a story by published by MarketWatch, a Chief Technology Officer of a Swedish tech company estimated that up to 50 percent of jobs today will be done by artificial intelligence in the next 10-20 years.

The report suggested that the jobs most at threat are in retail, fast food and manual labour.

To be clear, all technology in the fast food sector is human programmed and operates in accordance with what humans have demanded. Moreover, there are no examples of any technology in any of these sectors that doesn’t.

Sundar Pichai: “AI is more important than fire”

Earlier this year, Google CEO Sundar Pichai stated, “AI is one of the most important things humanity is working on. It is more profound than, I dunno, electricity or fire”.

It’s difficult to understand how an intelligent man has deemed a concept without a working definition to be more important than a natural resource that allowed us to fend off will animals, build tools, choose where we set up camp, keep warm in freezing temperatures and, you know, cook.

Alas, that’s where we’re at.

Theresa May, UK Prime Minister, talks AI

That Theresa May, a leader of one of the world’s richest nations, could devote an entire speech to the “ethics” of AI at the World Economic Forum is probably the best of example of just how much hysteria has been generated around the term.

AI prophecies are now so hysterical they can be used for political refuge. After all, why discuss anything that matters, when you can discuss something that doesn’t?

AI has been “just around the corner” since the 1960s

Overall, we aren’t witnessing the emergence of artificial intelligence, what we’re witnessing is a marked increase in hyperbole from people spellbound by marketing and popular culture.

AI has been a point of fascination all the way back to the 1960s. Here’s a video of an interview with Jerome Wiesner, Director of the Research Laboratory of Electronics at MIT, from the 1960s.

In response to a question on whether machines can think, Wiesner states, “Oh, it’s a very hard question to answer. If you’d asked me to answer that question just a few years ago I’d say it’s very far-fetched but today I don’t really know and I suspect if you come back in 4 or 5 years I’ll say sure, they really do think”.

Should it be unclear, computers weren’t able to think by 1965.

If we’re going to have honest discussions about what technology can do for humanity, let’s start by being honest about its many limitations.