Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk recently slugged it out online over the possible threats of artificial intelligence and what it might pose to the human race one day. Although you could be forgiven if you do not see why this seems like a pressing question.
Thanks to AI computers are learning to do a variety of tasks that have long eluded them, everything from driving cars to detecting cancerous skin lesions to writing news stories. But Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX worries about what the AI systems could become and potentially lead to our deliberate (or inadvertent) extinction.
For a computer to become a general purpose AI system, it would need to do more than just one simple task like drive, pick up an object or predict crop yields. According to Stuart Russell, a computer scientist at the University of California at Berkeley, AI systems may reach a turning point when they gain the ability to understand language at the level of a college student.
Of course, the prosaic use of AI will almost certainly challenge existing legal norms and regulations. When a self-driving car causes a fatal accident, or an AI-driven medical system provides an incorrect medical diagnosis, society will need rules in place for determining legal responsibility and liability.
AI is meant to make life easier, but because these machines aren't capable of thinking outside the box in ways they weren't programmed, we'll have to wait and see what happens.