TECH

Microsoft Research Chief Says AI Is No Threat. Bill Gates Says It Is.

29/01/2015 10:15 GMT | Updated 29/01/2015 10:59 GMT

Microsoft’s head of research says a super-intelligent computer probably won’t destroy humanity.

But Bill Gates? He’s not so sure.

Eric Horvitz, who chief of Microsoft Research, said he disagreed with Stephen Hawking (and many, many others) who think there is a possibility that a runaway AI could result in our downfall.

"There have been concerns about the long-term prospect that we lose control of certain kinds of intelligences," he said in a video after receiving the AAAI Feigenbaum Prize for work in AI.

"I fundamentally don't think that's going to happen.”

eric horvitz

Above: Microsoft Research chief Eric Horvitz, former president of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence

Hawking et al say that AI research could, if unchecked by cooperation on ethical and safety standards, develop different aims and principals to humanity.

Within just a few decades, Hawking argues, it would be conceivable that AI would pose a threat. More than 100 scientists and researchers including Hawking and Elon Musk recently signed a letter calling for greater awareness of the possible dangers, and asking investors to back projects with positive aims.

Others have argued that up to 40% of all jobs could be made redundant if truly intelligent computers were able to deployed in private companies.

But Horvitz said that there is more to gain from AI than lose.

"I think that we will be very proactive in terms of how we field AI systems, and that in the end we'll be able to get incredible benefits from machine intelligence in all realms of life, from science to education to economics to daily life."

However, Horvitz admitted that AI is now one of the main battlegrounds on which the future of tech is being fought. Microsoft’s Cortana virtual assistant is already facing off against Google Now, Siri and others for early adopters’ attention, and usage - or dependence - on personal AIs is only going to grow.

"The next if not last enduring competitive battlefield among major IT companies will be artificial intelligence. The notion that systems that can think, listen, hear, collect data from thousands of user experiences - and we synthesise it back to enhance its services over time - has come to the forefront now.”

"We have Cortana and Siri and Google Now setting up a competitive tournament for where's the best intelligent assistant going to come from... and that kind of competition is going to heat up the research and investment, and bring it more into the spotlight."

However Microsoft founder Bill Gates has a different perspective. In a Reddit AMA, he said that he did consider AI a threat.

He said:

“I am in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence. First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that though the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern. I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don't understand why some people are not concerned.”