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AI dominance & the master algorithm

Hi Future Fans,

I’ve been quiet for a couple of weeks due to work, so now is a good time to launch into some good old-fashioned AI commentary!

Clearly everyone will be aware of AI by now, and we’re seeing AI driving huge progress in language translation, voice recognition, autonomous navigation, image recognition, disease diagnosis (e.g. radiology) and endless other fields. Over the next couple of posts, I’ll look at some specific exciting applications of AI, and will balance this with some cautionary tales.

Today, however, is about the AI arms race!

The linked article is an interview between DER SPIEGEL (a German News outlet) and Pedro Domingos, who is the author of ‘The Master Algorithm’. This book is a critically-acclaimed attempt to bring various learning algorithms together into a kind of ‘algorithm to rule them all’.

The first item to comment on here, is the notion that the first company / organization / entity to develop ‘real’ AI will immediately be far superior to all others. From that point, they will additionally accelerate themselves exponentially faster than their competition, resulting in an unassailable advantage.

That leads us to the question of who is winning so far and what their motives might be.

The countries that are furthest along are the US, Russia, and China. China has specifically announced a nationwide focus on AI and is expected to surpass all other countries by 2025 unless something else changes. European countries, and the powerhouses of Germany and France in particular, seem lacking in a recognition of the power of AI and the fundamental imperative to enter this competition in force.

The race may well be won by a company or companies however. Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon are leading from the West. Google looks to be the furthest ahead and is investing very heavily. In the East, Alibaba, Tencent, and Baidu are all significant players.

If we expect that one of these entities will effectively ‘win’ and rapidly move to 10x, 100x, 1000x superiority, then we need to question motives. You may have heard of the saying “absolute power corrupts, absolutely” and that’s the worry. Clearly, the governments of China and Russia will have immediate authoritarian agendas and, potentially, even more benign countries or companies will find it difficult to remain benign when holding such power.

The current AI race is probably an order of magnitude more potent than the race to nuclear weapons. Domingos uses the phrase “Any sufficiently advanced AI is indistinguishable from God”, which is a spin on Athur C Clark’s “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. AI and / or those who wield it will likely dominate the world. Let’s hope that wise and kind minds dominate in the end; artificial or otherwise.

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