There’s no one unifying vision of how super-smart artificial intelligence (AI) will change the future. Depending on who you ask, it could take our jobs, turn the Earth into paperclips, or kill off humankind.
Shimon Whiteson, an AI researcher at the University of Amsterdam, has a more hopeful vision: AI won’t just make our futures better and safer, it will solve humanity’s worst problems — even if getting there may require some uncomfortable compromises.
That belief is why Whiteson, who started learning computer programming at age 5, got into AI research in the first place.
“As I got older, I got really frustrated by how slowly humanity was solving the fundamental mysteries of the universe,” Whiteson told Tech Insider. “I thought the bottleneck here is that our brains are just too puny. It’s too hard to think about these really big problems with our little brains. We need to augment our brains with something that will make them smarter. We need to make computers so smart, they can help us solve these big problems.”
AI-powered computer systems are already working toward that. Doctors, for example, are harnessing the abilities of IBM’s Watson supercomputer to help diagnose and even treat cancer patients.
The future, as imagined by Whiteson, who works on telepresence robots called TERESAs, will bring us even closer to these super-smart AI systems.
“I really think in the future we are all going to be cyborgs,” Whiteson said. “[People] have a tendency to think, there’s us and then there’s computers. Maybe the computers will be our friends and maybe they will be our enemies, but we’ll be separate from them. But I think that’s not true at all, I think the human and the computer are really, really quickly becoming one tightly coupled cognitive unit.”
Take the smartphone, Whiteson said. The devices now make information available to anyone with an internet connection. So, in a sense, smartphones already tightly integrate with, enhance, and supplement human intelligence.
In Whiteson and others’ views, ever-more-sophisticated AI integrations will make humans smarter, more productive, and capable of solving the planet’s worst problems.
“Where the computer is located in relation to your brain is not that important — what’s important is you and the computer are becoming one cognitive unit that work together,” Whiteson said. “This has huge implications for basically everything about life. Imagine how much more productive we would be if we could augment our brains with infallible memories and infallible calculators.”
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