Google DeepMind’s kill switch research may ease AI fears

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8 June 2016 | 0

With so many people taking their cues from the movies on what a future with artificial intelligence will look like, some who fear one day having robotic overlords will be heartened by research that Google is doing.

Google DeepMind, a London-based artificial intelligence company that Google acquired in 2014, is working on what will be a kill switch for robots and other AI systems.

The idea is that one day a smart machine might be able to override its own off button. If that’s the case, then humans would need another way to gain the upper hand.

“If an agent is operating in real-time under human supervision, now and then it may be necessary for a human operator to press the big red button to prevent the agent from continuing a harmful sequence of actions – harmful either for the agent or for the environment,” researchers wrote in a paper posted on the Machine Intelligence Research Institute website. “However, if the learning agent… learns in the long run to avoid such interruptions, for example by disabling the red button, it is an undesirable outcome.”

The paper was co-written by Laurent Orseau, a research scientist with Google DeepMind, and Stuart Armstrong, a researcher with the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford.

The researchers are looking for ways to keep a machine from learning about human interventions and stopping them from happening.

It’s an interesting, and possibly critical, step for researchers to take given the popular fears surrounding artificial intelligence.

With many getting their ideas for a robotic future from movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Terminator, I, Robot and Battlestar Galactica, some envision a future where the machines are in charge and people are their slaves.

It’s not a pretty picture and it has many people, even tech entrepreneur Elon Musk and physicist Steven Hawking, anxious about what awaits humans in a future where smart machines are increasingly involved in people’s lives.

Hawking went so far as to say: “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”

Google’s kill switch research is more than technology to placate the frightened masses, but may also be well-timed.

Jeff Kagan, an independent industry analyst, said the DeepMind research makes sense. For an industry that often develops technology before thinking through its repercussions, this is a well-timed effort.

“We are not at the point yet where we have to worry about AI taking over,” Kagan said. “However, we always build faster than we think… I just hope that these brilliant scientists can use their brainpower to protect us rather than just invent and eventually threaten us.”

Google has been diving head first into AI, using the technology in its search engine, its upcoming chat and video apps, and Google Assistant and Google Home device.

Sharon Gaudin, IDG News Service

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