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Two of the smartest technologists on the planet – Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Elon Musk of SpaceX and Tesla Motors – were engaged in a social media feud recently over the future of artificial intelligence. While Musk firmly believes that AI, if not handled properly, could result in the destruction of humanity, Zuckerberg is much more optimistic about the future of AI.
In fact, Zuckerberg called the promulgation of such dystopian scenarios “pretty irresponsible” in a recent Facebook Live broadcast. To which Musk simply tweeted out, “his understanding of the subject is limited.” (Yikes!)
So who’s right – Zuckerberg or Musk?
The doomsday AI scenario is the type of thing you might expect from a Hollywood blockbuster film, and so it’s no surprise that the dystopian premise of AI has captured the public’s imagination. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist (or an AI scientist) to realize that machines might one day become smarter than humans and eventually become our robot overlords. In an extreme scenario, these machines would be capable of creating a malignant super-intelligence that would enslave the human race. (That’s also the plot line for a recent Johnny Depp film!)
Some of the world’s leading technologists have already spoken out about the perils of artificial intelligence (AI), including, most notably, the likes of Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking and Bill Gates. They all have concluded that artificial intelligence, if not handled properly, could lead to a dystopian future scenario in which humans are wiped off the planet by AI-powered machines. Twitter former CEO Dick Costolo recently ventured into the Twitter feud between Musk and Zuckerberg, saying that he was also “pessimistic” about the future of AI.
Social media and AI
One reason why Zuckerberg is so optimistic about the future of AI is because he’s seen first-hand how artificial intelligence has made Facebook a more efficient and more innovative company. Ever wondered how Facebook is able to recognize people in your photos? You can thank AI for that. Ever wondered how Facebook can determine what to show you in your newsfeed? You can also thank artificial intelligence for that.
And it’s clear that more AI-fueled innovations are on the way. Artificial intelligence might conjure up a vision of really scary Terminator bots, but it simply refers to the ability of machines to recognize a lot of patterns. With enough effort, you can train a machine to differentiate between a dog and a car (harder than it sounds!), and from there, to differentiate between your Aunt Sally and your Uncle Joe (also very hard!).
So it’s no wonder that Facebook has been one of the biggest recruiters of AI talent in Silicon Valley. The push is on to create better and better algorithms, and for that, you need the best AI talent.
What happens when you combine AI and VR?
And, of course, there’s one more reason why Facebook might be interested in AI, and that’s because of the potential link between AI and virtual reality (VR), another hot technology. Facebook, of course, acquired the VR company Oculus for $2 billion, and has been searching for ways to monetize VR. One solution could be some hybrid of AI and VR, such as the one that Microsoft is currently working on for its Hololens technology.
Of course, if Musk is right, any Facebook experiment with AI and VR is bound to go poorly. It might lead to a scenario like the one in the Ernest Cline novel “Ready Player One” (a favorite of Oculus VR designers, and also the basis for an upcoming Steven Spielberg movie in 2018), in which humans are living in a dystopian, soulless society where it’s preferable to spend all your free time hanging out in a virtual world rather than the real world.
Let’s hope Zuckerberg – and Facebook – decides to use sound judgment when it comes to the future growth of AI, and aren’t swayed by Wall Street greed or other factors.