President Obama was directly asked in a Wired interview about the dangers Bostrom raises regarding AI. From the transcript:
DADICH: I want to center our conversation on artificial intelligence, which has gone from science fiction to a reality that’s changing our lives. When was the moment you knew that the age of real AI was upon us?
OBAMA: My general observation is that it has been seeping into our lives in all sorts of ways, and we just don’t notice; and part of the reason is because the way we think about AI is colored by popular culture. There’s a distinction, which is probably familiar to a lot of your readers, between generalized AI and specialized AI. In science fiction, what you hear about is generalized AI, right? Computers start getting smarter than we are and eventually conclude that we’re not all that useful, and then either they’re drugging us to keep us fat and happy or we’re in the Matrix. My impression, based on talking to my top science advisers, is that we’re still a reasonably long way away from that. It’s worth thinking about because it stretches our imaginations and gets us thinking about the issues of choice and free will that actually do have some significant applications for specialized AI, which is about using algorithms and computers to figure out increasingly complex tasks. We’ve been seeing specialized AI in every aspect of our lives, from medicine and transportation to how electricity is distributed, and it promises to create a vastly more productive and efficient economy. If properly harnessed, it can generate enormous prosperity and opportunity. But it also has some downsides that we’re gonna have to figure out in terms of not eliminating jobs. It could increase inequality. It could suppress wages.
DADICH: But there are certainly some risks. We’ve heard from folks like Elon Musk and Nick Bostrom who are concerned about AI’s potential to outpace our ability to understand it. As we move forward, how do we think about those concerns as we try to protect not only ourselves but humanity at scale?
OBAMA: Let me start with what I think is the more immediate concern—it’s a solvable problem in this category of specialized AI, and we have to be mindful of it. If you’ve got a computer that can play Go, a pretty complicated game with a lot of variations, then developing an algorithm that lets you maximize profits on the New York Stock Exchange is probably within sight. And if one person or organization got there first, they could bring down the stock market pretty quickly, or at least they could raise questions about the integrity of the financial markets.
Then there could be an algorithm that said, “Go penetrate the nuclear codes and figure out how to launch some missiles.” If that’s its only job, if it’s self-teaching and it’s just a really effective algorithm, then you’ve got problems. I think my directive to my national security team is, don’t worry as much yet about machines taking over the world. Worry about the capacity of either nonstate actors or hostile actors to penetrate systems, and in that sense it is not conceptually different than a lot of the cybersecurity work we’re doing. It just means that we’re gonna have to be better, because those who might deploy these systems are going to be a lot better now.
ITO: I generally agree. The only caveat is that there are a few people who believe that there is a fairly high-percentage chance that a generalized AI will happen in the next 10 years. But the way I look at it is that in order for that to happen, we’re going to need a dozen or two different breakthroughs. So you can monitor when you think these breakthroughs will happen.
OBAMA: And you just have to have somebody close to the power cord. [Laughs.] Right when you see it about to happen, you gotta yank that electricity out of the wall, man.
Obama addresses intelligence feedback in this extract from the video interview (video clips here):
Now I think as a precaution – and all of us have spoken to folks like Elon Musk who are concerned about the superintelligent machine – there’s some prudence in thinking about benchmarks that would indicate some general intelligence developing on the horizon.
If we can see that coming over the course of three decades, five decades, whatever the latest estimates are – if ever, because there are also arguments that this thing is a lot more complicated than people make it out to be. Then future generations – our kids or our grandkids – are going to be able to see it coming and figure it out.
From the White House white paper “Preparing for the Future of AI“:
“People have long speculated on the implications of computers becoming more intelligent than humans. Some predict that a sufficiently intelligent AI could be tasked with developing even better, more intelligent systems, and that these in turn could be used to create systems with yet greater intelligence, and so on, leading in principle to an “intelligence explosion” or “singularity” in which machines quickly race far ahead of humans in intelligence.
In a dystopian vision of this process, these super-intelligent machines would exceed the ability of humanity to understand or control. If computers could exert control over many critical systems, the result could be havoc, with humans no longer in control of their destiny at best and extinct at worst. This scenario has long been the subject of science fiction stories, and recent pronouncements from some influential industry leaders have highlighted these fears.
A more positive view of the future held by many researchers sees instead the development of intelligent systems that work well as helpers, assistants, trainers, and teammates of humans, and are designed to operate safely and ethically.
The NSTC Committee on Technology’s assessment is that long-term concerns about super-intelligent General AI should have little impact on current policy. The policies the Federal Government should adopt in the near-to-medium term if these fears are justified are almost exactly the same policies the Federal Government should adopt if they are not justified. The best way to build capacity for addressing the longer-term speculative risks is to attack the less extreme risks already seen today, such as current security, privacy, and safety risks, while investing in research on longer-term capabilities and how their challenges might be managed. Additionally, as research and applications in the field continue to mature, practitioners of AI in government and business should approach advances with appropriate consideration of the long-term societal and ethical questions – in additional to just the technical questions – that such advances portend. Although prudence dictates some attention to the possibility that harmful superintelligence might someday become possible, these concerns should not be the main driver of public policy for AI.
Very non-terrible. In merely life-and-death news, the US Department of Transportation released guidelines for the development of autonomous vehicles, and most commentators consider them reasonably free and pro-development.