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Sci Tech    H4'ed 4/2/19

Self-aware artificial intelligence? Coming soon to a robot near you

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"Open the pod bay doors, HAL."
"I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that."

This classic exchange from Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey, epitomizes the risks of a self-aware artificial intelligence.

People who tell us not to worry about the existential threat of super-smart artificial intelligence or Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) often argue that however brilliant AI agents--such as deep learning programs or autonomous robots--become at specific tasks, they'll inevitably lack the general, all-purpose kind of intelligence humans have. Without that high-level understanding of oneself, the world, and one's place in it, those soothing voices say, AI is and will remain a safe and helpful technology; just another tool like a laptop or a smartphone.

I'd like to believe in the lovely AI-enhanced future AI enthusiasts envision, but I keep coming across flaws in their shiny picture. One, that just came to my attention today, is that robots are becoming self aware. That brings them one step closer to becoming truly autonomous agents, not just eager-to-please tools with a Swiss-Army-knife-full of potentially superhuman skills, but entities with minds and goals of their own, like HAL.

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Robot arm with developing self image overlay
Robot arm with developing self image overlay
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Image by Robert Kwiatkowski/Columbia Engineering)   Details   DMCA

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The latest research along this line comes from Hod Lipson, director of the Creative Machines Lab at Columbia University and graduate student Robert Kwiatkowski. They built an articulated robot arm with four degrees of freedom, allowing it to rotate, bend and grasp in a huge number of different ways. The arm was controlled by a deep-learning computer network. Deep learning networks mimic the human brain in being able to learn from experience, and are the basis of many of today's most powerful AI applications, such as Google's AlphaZero, which in the course of just one day of "play" became the world champion in chess, Shogi and Go.

Initially the arm's deep learning network--in effect its brain--had no idea of the size, shape or structure of the arm, nor of the ways it could move. However, much like a baby babbling as it learns to speak, the system made thousands of random motions from which it gradually created an accurate internal model of itself. What looks like a distorted shadow in the picture above is an overlay of the arm's model of itself early in its learning process. After 35 hours of practice, the system developed a very accurate self model. In the picture below, you can see how closely the shadowy overlay tracks the actual arm.

Robot arm with nearly perfect self image
Robot arm with nearly perfect self image
(
Image by Robert Kwiatkowski/Columbia Engineering)   Details   DMCA

Once the robot arm's brain had an accurate self image, it could very quickly learn how to perform any number of specific tasks. In the video above, you can watch the arm pick up balls and place them in a container, and also print words.

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And, much like a person learning to perform a familiar task under unusual circumstances, for example eating with one arm in a cast, the robot rapidly modified its self image when the experimenters substituted a longer, bent piece for one segment of the arm.

Until now, the authors explain, human programmers had to spell out a robot's size, shape, and potential movements in order for it to function. "But if we want robots to become independent, to adapt quickly to scenarios unforeseen by their creators," says Lipson, "then it's essential that they learn to simulate themselves."

The researchers also suspect that having a self image able to plan and execute a multiplicity of tasks may represent a crucial step in human development. "We believe that this separation of self and task may also have been the origin of self awareness in humans," they write.

It may seem like a long way from a robot arm generating an accurate self image to a high-functioning, seemingly self aware AI like HAL. However, the pace of development in AI is dazzlingly fast and only getting faster. It may not take many iterations before Siri or your Google Assistant isn't just a chatty interface with an amazing collection of knowledge and skills, but a self aware entity, potentially with a mind of its own.


You can read the paper by Lipson and Kwiatkowskyhere.

(Article changed on April 2, 2019 at 18:58)

 

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Robert Adler

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We know that artificial intelligence can now far outperform humans in many specific areas, including face recognition, some medical diagnostics, and complex games such as chess and go. These specific super-skills are for the most part helpful. But what happens when AIs become self aware, a quantum leap that this article suggests may not be far away.

Submitted on Tuesday, Apr 2, 2019 at 5:43:06 PM

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Derryl Hermanutz

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There is a qualitative canyon between a machine guided by self-correcting algorithms, and a machine that is consciously aware of existing or doing anything. If we observe a machine that behaves as if it is "aware" of what it is doing, we may assume that the machine is actually aware in the same way we are aware. But we have no way of knowing that; any more than we have any way of knowing whether other people are aware in the same way we ourselves are aware. There is lots of observational (empirical) evidence that other people are aware like we are. But the only way we know we ourselves are aware is because we actually are. And by logical implication, we can assume that other people are really aware too. But with other people, all we have is the empirical evidence and the logical assumption; which is not the same as the kind of direct, immediate knowing-by-experience that we ourselves are aware. Nobody knows how human consciousness works. Nobody knows how consciousness is generated or where it comes from. There are many competing theories, but there is no actual knowledge of the processes involved. A machine can be programmed to act like it is aware and to say it is aware. But is the thing really conscious in the way we are? To give a rational answer to that question would require knowing a lot more about how our own consciousness works. Meanwhile, I don't think machines are going to be capable of generating actual consciousness and become consciously self-aware, unless the computer hardware replicates the processes by which a living brain generates consciousness - if indeed consciousness is geneerated by our brain.

Submitted on Tuesday, Apr 2, 2019 at 9:31:50 PM

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Reply to Derryl Hermanutz:   New Content

Thanks for the very thoughtful comment. I agree that we don't know what consciousness is, other than that almost all of us think we are conscious and that it's important. But that ignorance also means that we don't have a lot to say other than intuitively whether a machine can be conscious. I think there's some validity to the argument that current computers, which process data far faster than we do, but are not nearly as complexly interconnected probably aren't and perhaps can't be conscious. However, both the complexity and interconnectedness of computers are advancing extremely rapidly, so who knows just when some kind of boundary may be passed. In the meantime, however, computers that "just" do intelligent things, including developing internal models of themselves, and increasingly act as autonomous agents, are something we should keep close tab on.

Submitted on Tuesday, Apr 2, 2019 at 10:41:45 PM

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AlphaZero and Leela may be regarded by some merely as "advanced chess computers", but they also demonstrate what is dangerous about the direction AI could take off.

If AlphaZero can teach itself how to play chess in a day, and achieve the level of play it has, just think of what else a different AI model could "teach itself", given the resources and equipment of say, the military robots they're trying to build now.

I say this, also thinking of Maslow's Hammer - "I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail."

I shouldn't need to spell out the rest.

Submitted on Tuesday, Apr 2, 2019 at 10:20:13 PM

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Reply to Devil's Advocate:   New Content

I totally agree. If you want to see some resources--people and groups who have been thinking deeply about the risks of AGI for a while, you can find them at the end of this blog post:


https://zerospinzone.blogspot.com/2018/02/advanced-artificial-intelligence.html


Thanks for the comment.

Submitted on Tuesday, Apr 2, 2019 at 10:50:15 PM

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Even Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk say we need to be very scared of this development.

[From your linked page...]

"...super-intelligent AIs that can design and create other AIs that are even smarter..."

I wonder how many people see the implications of just that one scenario. (My bet is on "not enough".)

Submitted on Wednesday, Apr 3, 2019 at 12:40:13 AM

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. . . and I'm not betting against you on that point. Far too few people, including in the AI community.

Submitted on Wednesday, Apr 3, 2019 at 1:01:48 AM

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Many in AI community were short in natural intelligence.

Submitted on Wednesday, Apr 3, 2019 at 2:08:16 AM

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I wonder...if whatever created homo sapiens worried about what the hell we would do once we began thinking for ourselves.

Would we ever get out of control?

Submitted on Wednesday, Apr 3, 2019 at 1:32:00 AM

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Seems to have been an issue since the beginning, at least from the Old Testament--Adam and Eve getting kicked out of the Garden of Eden, then the great flood . . .

Submitted on Wednesday, Apr 3, 2019 at 5:08:36 AM

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Daniel Quinn, the author of the Ishmael books, thinks that the Cain Abel murder was the change from hunter gatherer societies to intensive agriculture. I think that was the beginning of the end of humans.

Submitted on Wednesday, Apr 3, 2019 at 11:22:00 PM

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Janet, I think you might know who I am. You said "I wonder ... if whatever created homo sapiens worried about what the hell we would do once we began thinking for ourselves." I am guessing probably not; but maybe, they should have. I mean, look at the things some of us do. Let me wonder now, I wonder if you have ever wondered if we, might be AI. I have thought that maybe we are but only because someone proposed that idea to me. Let me wonder again, I wonder if that was you who put that idea into my head ... Was it you? :)

Submitted on Wednesday, Apr 3, 2019 at 7:34:18 AM

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Yes, I think I do remember you, David Watts!

Frankly, I know nothing. Less with each passing day.

But I like to keep a lot of options on the table.

The Stepford Wives thought they were real, and so did their happy husbands.

Submitted on Wednesday, Apr 3, 2019 at 2:55:24 PM

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Once AI is able to effectively embrace self-pity, cowardice, self-sabotage, self-aggrandizement, jealousy, vindictiveness, and a number of other less-than-attractive human behaviors, we can be confident we will face a formidable foe in the competition for primacy. These darker aspects of humanness appear to be more often than not the first weapons of choice -- soon to be our last, if AI develops a robust conscience as well.

Submitted on Wednesday, Apr 3, 2019 at 3:24:43 AM

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The idea of AI developing, or being built with, a robust conscience is one of the key issues that those worrying about the existential risks of super-smart AI keep pushing. It turns out not to be an easy problem to solve.


On the subject of less-than-attractive human behaviors, I just read about a game-playing program that was programmed to cheat and then regain the trust of its human opponent by saying, "Oops, I pressed the wrong button." Serious students of this problem, for example:


Nick Bostrom:www.nickbostrom.com in his book,


Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies (2016)


point out that a superintelligent AI will also be superhuman in manipulating, cheating, etc.

Submitted on Wednesday, Apr 3, 2019 at 5:19:26 AM

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Some of the early prototypes were not as promising.

Deep-State Doppelg├Ąngers

That's why they stopped using Fortran.

Submitted on Wednesday, Apr 3, 2019 at 11:09:41 AM

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The way to solve the problem of AI with free will and a robust conscience, is to establish a gigantic Robot Church somewhere like Rome to establish the Robot Rules, and an Inferno End for those who go astray.

Submitted on Wednesday, Apr 3, 2019 at 2:48:23 PM

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Not a bad idea at all!

Submitted on Wednesday, Apr 3, 2019 at 3:46:40 PM

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It's worked on a lot of us 'humans' for many centuries. :)

Submitted on Wednesday, Apr 3, 2019 at 8:07:22 PM

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I think robots will think more like animals looking out for survival and procreation. Our crazy need to think of a conscience may not come into play. If humans are a threat, we are toast. If not, they will use us if we can be of help and also help us fight among each other so we never wake up to our servitude.

Submitted on Wednesday, Apr 3, 2019 at 11:30:52 PM

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Reply to Janet Supriano:   New Content
Robot church to establish Robot Rules. Very good.


Minds of AI to be molded to their rules
Learning to fear all of eternity
Warn the cannons of Robotic Christianity

Submitted on Thursday, Apr 4, 2019 at 6:44:27 PM

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I just got a recall notice for the old Suburu I just bought. The airbag wants to kill me and it will be free to get fixed. Earliest appointment: AUGUST 1.

I am being told in an "Urgent Recall" from the manufacturer that one of the robots in my car wants to kill me and I have to live with it and think about it whenever I drive for four full months.

Robotics are in a position to drive every one of us crazy right now.

Submitted on Wednesday, Apr 3, 2019 at 8:12:11 AM

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Yep. Same thing with my Subaru. The drive to crazy is a short trip. :)

Submitted on Wednesday, Apr 3, 2019 at 3:00:18 PM

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What a catchy slugline you've just coined!

"Subaru. The drive to crazy is a short trip."

Submitted on Wednesday, Apr 3, 2019 at 3:37:28 PM

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Not to mention the 737 Max. It now seems that the autopilot feature that kept pushing the nose of the plane down turned itself back on at least four times as it flew the Ethipian Airlines plane into the ground.

Submitted on Wednesday, Apr 3, 2019 at 3:54:17 PM

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You need a robot in the driver's seat to drive you around until August 1.

Submitted on Wednesday, Apr 3, 2019 at 9:37:20 PM

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Maybe I am.

Submitted on Wednesday, Apr 3, 2019 at 11:31:36 PM

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For the most part, AI is being made by humans in their own "image". Not only are robots often made to resemble humans in many ways, but the whole idea is obviously for them to be able to make HUMAN decisions, without the need for human input, and FREELY, without oversight.

And since we are, self-admittedly, flawed creatures, with very imperfect thinking, creating stuff that is faster and more efficient at executing OUR ideas, the result can't be good.

Submitted on Wednesday, Apr 3, 2019 at 4:27:45 PM

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I do not think we are capable of even understanding how this will happen or when/if AI becomes the master. The tension and angst building as we live among robots is instinctual. Carl Jung warns us about how technology pulls us away from how we evolved to interact as humans. Are the techies with their faces in their phones real humans, or are they being controlled by non stop propaganda, CGI, and virtual worlds from Big Brother.2 Have they become tools of their tools? We are entering the Matrix.

Submitted on Wednesday, Apr 3, 2019 at 6:37:50 PM

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BFalcon

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Reply to Chuck Nafziger:   New Content

AI doesn't even have to be the master.

Remember "Wargames" : Computer plays a game of nuclear war, when asked if this is a game or for real It answers: "What is the difference?"

A glitch may have caused Boeing's plane crash.

Another glitch may cause a nuclear war. Oops.

Submitted on Wednesday, Apr 3, 2019 at 8:13:08 PM

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Chuck Nafziger

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Reply to BFalcon:   New Content

We have been soooo close several time. Only luck and a few very brave commanders have saved us so far: certainly not intelligence or skill.

Submitted on Wednesday, Apr 3, 2019 at 11:33:21 PM

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Janet Supriano

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Reply to Devil's Advocate:   New Content

Hey, we talking about Mankind or God???

Submitted on Thursday, Apr 4, 2019 at 3:50:19 AM

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Devil's Advocate

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Reply to Janet Supriano:   New Content

We might be talking about humans playing "God".

I'm afraid in the end they'll probably feel more like "Dr. Frankenstein".

Submitted on Thursday, Apr 4, 2019 at 4:38:50 AM

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Philip Pease

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Most of all we humans use our self awareness as a feedback loop telling us to take action. I'm too hot or too cold, I am hungry or thirsty, I can't breath. We have built machines that are aware of inputs they receive from operators and from sensors that they monitor. Alexa what time is it? I suggest that we have created machines that are aware. Their sensory apparatus is aware when something happens and just like humans they respond by taking appropriate action.


We build machines that provide us (humans) greater awareness and control. What some humans are afraid of is that machines will become so proficient that they will dominate/control society. What they fear is a reduced self image. The "decision makers" fear they will be replaced.

Submitted on Friday, Apr 5, 2019 at 2:12:10 PM

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