Rodney Brooks: The Seven Deadly Sins of AI Predictions: "Imagine we had a time machine and we could transport Isaac Newton from the late 17th century to today, setting him down in a place that would be familiar to him: Trinity College Chapel at the University of Cambridge. Now show Newton an Apple. Pull out an iPhone from your pocket, and turn it on so that the screen is glowing and full of icons, and hand it to him...

...Newton, who revealed how white light is made from components of different-colored light by pulling apart sunlight with a prism and then putting it back together, would no doubt be surprised at such a small object producing such vivid colors in the darkness of the chapel. Now play a movie of an English country scene, and then some church music that he would have heard. And then show him a Web page with the 500-plus pages of his personally annotated copy of his masterpiece Principia.... Could Newton begin to explain how this small device did all that? Although he invented calculus and explained both optics and gravity, he was never able to sort out chemistry from alchemy. So I think he would be flummoxed, and unable to come up with even the barest coherent outline of what this device was. It would be no different to him from an embodiment of the occult—something that was of great interest to him. It would be indistinguishable from magic. And remember, Newton was a really smart dude.

If something is magic, it is hard to know its limitations.... What else might Newton conjecture that the device could do? Prisms work forever. Would he conjecture that the iPhone would work forever just as it is, neglecting to understand that it needs to be recharged?... If the iPhone can be a source of light without fire, could it perhaps also transmute lead into gold? This is a problem we all have with imagined future technology. If it is far enough away from the technology we have and understand today, then we do not know its limitations. And if it becomes indistinguishable from magic, anything one says about it is no longer falsifiable....

Nothing in the universe is without limit. Watch out for arguments about future technology that is magical. Such an argument can never be refuted. It is a faith-based argument, not a scientific argument.... We have seen a sudden increase in performance of AI systems thanks to the success of deep learning. Many people seem to think that means we will continue to see AI performance increase by equal multiples on a regular basis. But the deep-learning success was 30 years in the making, and it was an isolated event. That does not mean there will not be more isolated events, where work from the backwaters of AI research suddenly fuels a rapid-step increase in the performance of many AI applications. But there is no “law” that says how often they will happen....

Many AI researchers and AI pundits, especially those pessimists who indulge in predictions about AI getting out of control and killing people, are similarly imagination-challenged.... Long before there are evil super-intelligences that want to get rid of us, there will be somewhat less intelligent, less belligerent machines. Before that, there will be really grumpy machines. Before that, quite annoying machines. And before them, arrogant, unpleasant machines. We will change our world along the way, adjusting both the environment for new technologies and the new technologies themselves. I am not saying there may not be challenges. I am saying that they will not be sudden and unexpected, as many people think...


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