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My progressive grandmother


How I see artificial intelligence now
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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I've changed my idea of what I think artificial intelligence is going to be like. I think when I first started thinking about it, I kind of imagined the science fiction I Robot of an embodied artificial intelligence of being very much like a human, but made of electronic parts or something like that. And it's not that I think that's impossible to build, but I don't think that's the interesting thing. I mean one of the great things about an intelligence that's freed from the bounds of a human body is it can do things that humans can't do. It can have much larger memory capacity. It can be in many places at once. It can use as its eyes all of the sensors that it's connected to. It can learn something in one experience and apply it to the others. So if there are self-driving vehicles, I don't think of it as an intelligent vehicle. It's a system of vehicles. So if one of them learns a lesson and realises there's a pothole someplace or a dangerous intersection, there's no reason all of them can't know that. And so I think we fall into the trap of imagining an artificial intelligence as being too analogous to human intelligence. So people ask what seem to me silly questions sometimes, like they say, 'Well, there's a self-driving vehicle. Would it be willing to sacrifice the driver to prevent running over a pedestrian?' As if it's going to have a little brain in it like the driver does. But actually, that decision is going to be made the system, by society, by the laws we set, by all the experience of all the self-driving vehicles. And so in some sense, that's a much better way of making a decision than having the driver sitting in the driver's seat make that decision. It's going to be a much more informed decision that a lot more participate in and is done for much less selfish reasons. So because that decision is going to be made by the system of all the artificially intelligent vehicles, not by a single individual self-preserving AI brain.

So I now think of intelligence as kind of extended intelligence. It's the intelligence of all the machines working together and all the people working with them. So it's the kind of intelligence, in some sense, like is in Google right now. Google isn't really machine intelligence, it's not really human intelligence, it's some combination of humans and machines that are able to find things that you're searching for. And I think AI is going to be like that. It's going to be a combination of machines and people and so it's that extended group of intelligences that's going to be the thing that does the thinking. So that's how I see artificial intelligence now. And that's the thing I want to be proud of me.

[Q] So you're pretty far along.

We're getting there.

W Daniel Hillis (b. 1956) is an American inventor, scientist, author and engineer. While doing his doctoral work at MIT under artificial intelligence pioneer, Marvin Minsky, he invented the concept of parallel computers, that is now the basis for most supercomputers. He also co-founded the famous parallel computing company, Thinking Machines, in 1983 which marked a new era in computing. In 1996, Hillis left MIT for California, where he spent time leading Disney’s Imagineers. He developed new technologies and business strategies for Disney's theme parks, television, motion pictures, Internet and consumer product businesses. More recently, Hillis co-founded an engineering and design company, Applied Minds, and several start-ups, among them Applied Proteomics in San Diego, MetaWeb Technologies (acquired by Google) in San Francisco, and his current passion, Applied Invention in Cambridge, MA, which 'partners with clients to create innovative products and services'. He holds over 100 US patents, covering parallel computers, disk arrays, forgery prevention methods, and various electronic and mechanical devices (including a 10,000-year mechanical clock), and has recently moved into working on problems in medicine. In recognition of his work Hillis has won many awards, including the Dan David Prize.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes George Dyson

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: artificial intelligence, science fiction, human, self-driving vehicles, decision, intelligence, AI

Duration: 3 minutes, 16 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 05 July 2017