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Once this breakthrough happens, artificial intelligence will be smarter than humans


ex machina

There's no way of knowing when the machines will take over, but scientists have a prediction about the breakthrough that would have to occur in order for that to happen: the development of an artificial intelligence (AI) system that rivals our own brains.

There's an interesting reason why such a system would almost certainly overtake human intelligence and precipitate the rise of machines than are smarter than us — not just equally smart.

As director of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute (SETI), Seth Shostak ends up thinking a lot about AI.

He predicts we'll find AI in the universe before we will be able to find the biological beings that might have created it, since computers and various devices can travel great distances much more easily than living beings (just think of the rovers we've sent to Mars).

Here on Earth, as well as on other planets, Shostak thinks the exponential rise of computers will eventually allow them to outsmart us.

"We're inventing our successors," he said at the Smithsonian's Future Is Here Festival on April 24.

Today, Shostak said, we can build computers that can beat humans at specific tasks (like winning the game Go). The machines can't beat us at everything we do — yet.

"But the assumption is that that will happen in this century. And if it does happen, the first thing you ask that computer is: Design something smarter than you are," he said at the conference. "Very quickly, you have a machine that's smarter than a human. And within 20 years, thanks to this improvement in technology, you have one computer that's smarter than all humans put together."

broad institute brain synapsesHis idea is that we'll eventually design AI that is as complex and intelligent as a human brain.

Companies like Google and IBM are already developing machines with neural networks that function like our brains do, jumping from thought to thought in a web rather than in a straight line like traditional computers do.

Once we make AI as smart as humans are, we can tell it to make a smarter AI. Then that machine will be smarter than us, and so on.

What we have to decide once we reach this breakthrough, however, is: Should we make a machine that can outsmart us?

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