Is Artificial Intelligence for Real?
Did you know there’s an artificial intelligence (AI) that can decipher your age and how attractive you are?
But the AI that makes art and music can’t make investments. It’s a safe bet there’s at least one person who is world class at all three. And that’s the heart of one of the largest questions in the world right now: Is it possible to create an AI that can match a human at a broad range of cognitive tasks?
To be clear, this is a challenge. There’s something special about human intelligence that we’re not quite able to put our fingers on yet. When Garry Kasparov played chess against IBM’s Deep Blue supercomputer, it was estimated that the computer was checking 200 million positions a second while Kasparov was checking five. Kasparov won their first tournament.
How would that be possible if there wasn’t some sort of secret sauce inside the human brain? But technology is progressing at a furious pace, and a growing group of developers are harnessing this progress to search for the secret recipe. With that in mind, we decided to ask the readers of CFA Institute Financial NewsBrief for their opinion.
And, boy, did opinions vary. They should, because this is both a controversial and critical issue. That technological progress is a component of economic growth is hardly a revelation. But creating a human-quality intelligence that is native to the silicon environment of a server farm, never sleeps, and is networked to the entire world has the potential to substantially revise everything we know about how technology moves forward. Take a second and think about how such an innovation would affect your ability to find work. Just watch a relatively primitive AI play the popular smartphone game 2048.
It’s logical to think you could find a job doing manual labor. But Luke Muehlhauser, the former executive director of the Machine Research Institute (MIRI), says no way: “Robots will be better than humans at manual labor, too.”
If you’re scared, there is some good news. A plurality (35%) of the 772 respondents think achieving human level intelligence is impossible.
It well may be. After all, creating music and feeling emotion are entirely different things. I’m writing this while listening to “focus enhancing” music from brain.fm, and even though the music does do a good job of keeping me on task, it’s tough to think the machine felt anything while creating it.
No matter how far technology advances, it may just be impossible to replicate the feeling of wonder, awe, and infinite smallness that a human being experiences while staring up at the night sky.
But technology is getting pretty good at faking it. Last year, a poem written by an AI was accepted to The Archive, a literary magazine at Duke University.
Given that, it’s understandable why 11% of respondents believe that such an intelligence already exists. Writing a poem is still a ways away from the sort of AI depicted in Ex Machina, but it’s definitely the sort of thing that people are surprised computers can do.
That element of surprise is actually one of the more interesting elements about forecasting this trend. When a technology works, we immediately take it for granted. But the last time you flew on an airplane, a computer was doing most of the piloting!
And let’s not forget that in 1895 Lord Kelvin famously said that “Heavier than air flying machines are impossible.” Speaking on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, NASA’s then-deputy administrator, Frederick Gregory, declared Kelvin to have been “slightly in error“.
I wasn’t able to confirm whether he dropped the microphone afterwards. But that underscores a serious point: Declaring a technological innovation impossible is a form of hubris that invites mockery. Scientist and author Arthur C. Clarke offered a great turn of phrase: “If an elderly but distinguished scientist says that something is possible he is almost certainly right, but if he says that it is impossible he is very probably wrong.”
So I wouldn’t advise shorting technological progress. And the balance of respondents didn’t. Instead, they offered divergent forecasts for when an artificial intelligence would be developed. The second largest group of respondents (32%) believed it would happen by 2045, followed by 12% who thought it would happen by 2100. 11% believed that it would be possible, but the breakthrough would not come this century.
The median prediction in a survey of forecasts is 2042. There are plenty of reasons to take this with a grain of salt, particularly because predicting things is very hard. But if this has piqued your interest and if you’d like to learn more, I recommend first reading this excellent explainer of the state of the field at the moment. If then you think that this might be a trend worth investing in, take a look at the technology from the perspective of a venture capitalist.
And if reading this post has got you worried about a dystopic future, read this comic and chill out a bit. It might not be that bad.
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All posts are the opinion of the author. As such, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute or the author’s employer.