- The keynote speaker at the Royal Society was another Google employee: Geoffrey Hinton, who for decades has been a central figure in developing deep learning. As the conference wound down, I spotted him chatting with [Nick] Bostrom in the middle of a scrum of researchers. Hinton was saying that he did not expect A.I. to be achieved for decades. “No sooner than 2070,” he said. “I am in the camp that is hopeless.”
“In that you think it will not be a cause for good?” Bostrom asked.
“I think political systems will use it to terrorize people,” Hinton said. Already, he believed, agencies like the N.S.A. were attempting to abuse similar technology.
“Then why are you doing the research?” Bostrom asked.
“I could give you the usual arguments,” Hinton said. “But the truth is that the prospect of discovery is too sweet.” He smiled awkwardly, the word hanging in the air—an echo of Oppenheimer, who famously said of the bomb, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it, and you argue about what to do about it only after you have had your technical success.”
- Perhaps because the field of A.I. has recently made striking advances—with everyday technology seeming, more and more, to exhibit something like intelligent reasoning—the book has struck a nerve. Bostrom’s supporters compare it to “Silent Spring.” In moral philosophy, Peter Singer and Derek Parfit have received it as a work of importance, and distinguished physicists such as Stephen Hawking have echoed its warning. Within the high caste of Silicon Valley, Bostrom has acquired the status of a sage. Elon Musk, the C.E.O. of Tesla, promoted the book on Twitter, noting, “We need to be super careful with AI. Potentially more dangerous than nukes.” Bill Gates recommended it, too. Suggesting that an A.I. could threaten humanity, he said, during a talk in China, “When people say it’s not a problem, then I really start to get to a point of disagreement. How can they not see what a huge challenge this is?”