On a recent Monday morning, Elon Musk busied himself on Twitter by predicting how World War III would start.
Inspired by news that Vladimir Putin had told Russian students the country that leads in artificial intelligence will rule the world, the Tesla and SpaceX CEO declared the global race to dominate AI might turn into real war—and that the first strike could well be launched by an algorithm rather than a flesh- and-blood leader. Chastised by one of his followers for the gloomy prognostication, he apologised and then confessed, “I was depressing myself too. 🙁 ”.
Musk is a techno-provocateur with few equals. However, plenty of people share his take on AI. Even sunnier forecasts about the future of AI, detailing how self-driving cars might radically reduce highway carnage, are typically too long-range to offer much of a sense of comfort.
Meanwhile, as everyone muses about where AI might take us, the technology has arrived. First given its name by scientists at a seminal conference held at Dartmouth College in 1956 (they had predicted that programmers would be able to simulate the workings of the human brain in just a few years), AI now has a pervasive and obvious impact, particularly when it comes to the branch known as machine learning and, in especially advanced form, as deep learning. AI is how Google Photos knows that two snapshots taken 50 years apart are both of your great-uncle. It’s how Facebook weeds spam out of your feed. It’s even how the iPhone ekes as much life as possible out of a battery charge.
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