Artificial intelligence and nanotechnology ‘threaten civilization

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Stuart-Dredge-003By Stuart Dredge

Mr. Stuart Dredge is a freelance journalist and contributing editor to Guardian Technology, specializing in apps, mobile content and digital music.

Technologies join nuclear war, ecological catastrophe, super-volcanoes and asteroid impacts in Global Challenges Foundation’s risk report.

Artificial intelligence and nanotechnology have been named alongside nuclear war, ecological catastrophe and super-volcano eruptions as “risks that threaten human civilisation” in a report by the Global Challenges Foundation.

In the case of AI, the report suggests that future machines and software with “human-level intelligence” could create new, dangerous challenges for humanity – although they could also help to combat many of the other risks cited in the report.

“Such extreme intelligences could not easily be controlled (either by the groups creating them, or by some international regulatory regime), and would probably act to boost their own intelligence and acquire maximal resources for almost all initial AI motivations,” suggest authors Dennis Pamlin and Stuart Armstrong.

In the case of artificial intelligence, though, Global Challenges Foundation’s report is part of a wider debate about possible risks as AI gets more powerful in the future.

In January, former Microsoft boss Bill Gates said that he is “in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence”, even if in the short term, machines doing more jobs for humans should be a positive trend if managed well.

“A few decades after that though the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern. I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don’t understand why some people are not concerned.”

Tesla and SpaceX boss Musk had spoken out in October 2014, suggesting that “we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I had to guess at what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that”.

Professor Stephen Hawking is another worrier, saying in December that “the primitive forms of artificial intelligence we already have, have proved very useful. But I think the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”

The full list of “risks that threaten human civilisation, according to Global Challenges Foundation:

  • Extreme climate change
  • Nuclear war
  • Global pandemic
  • Ecological catastrophe
  • Global system collapse
  • Major asteroid impact
  • Super-volcano
  • Synthetic biology
  • Nanotechnology
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Unknown consequences
  • Future bad global governance

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