William Leiss is a Fellow and Past-President (1999-2001) of the Royal Society of Canada and an Officer in the Order of Canada. His latest book, The Doom Loop in the Financial Sector, and Other Black Holes of Risk, was published by The University of Ottawa Press in October 2010. Over a period of thirty years, he has worked extensively in a consulting capacity with industry and with Canadian federal and provincial government departments in the area of risk communication, risk management, public consultation, and multi-stakeholder consensus-building processes. He has been an advisor on issues dealing with pesticides, toxic chemicals (chlorine, dioxins, and others), tobacco, prescription drugs, electric & magnetic fields, genetic engineering, and many others.
The Threat of Superintelligence
Thursday, March 29, 6:00PM–8:00PM, Room 7000, SFU Harbour Centre
Co-sponsored by SFU's Institute for the Humanities and the Centre for Digital Media
In his book entitled Superintelligence (Oxford University Press, 2014), Nick Bostrom gave wide currency to a discussion that had previously gone largely unnoticed by the wider public. “Superintelligence” refers to the idea that steady advances in artificial intelligence, or machine (computer) intelligence, might one day result in creating a machine vastly superior to humans in reasoning and decision-making abilities. The enthusiasts for this idea, like Google’s Ray Kurzweil, call this possibility “the singularity,” a radical break in the trajectory of human existence. And they think that this coming event is inevitable, and could not be stopped even if we wanted to stop it.
There is something decidedly odd about this whole discussion. Many of the enthusiasts see this development as ushering in a human utopia, with happiness and good health for all. On the other hand, the “downside” is rather stark; one discussion of the inevitable singularity refers to the possibility of the end of the human race and the destruction of the planet! Bostrom raises the possibility that a superintelligent machine might wish to dominate or eliminate humans, and might have the capacity to deceive the humans who created it about its true intentions, until it was too late for them to take action to stop it.
In my humble opinion, we need to have a broader discussion about all this.