Aug 25, 2017

Intelligence is a fragile thing

Elon Musk warns us about the rise of an artificial superintelligence that could destroy us all. But are the robots about to take over? Nope.

Despite predictions that we're on the cusp of creating artificial intelligence, scientists do not yet agree on what human intelligence is. Depending on who you ask, it's the ability to do math problems, write poetry, inspire political movements, or have healthy emotional relationships. Maybe it's all of those things. The fact is, we can't build an artificial version of something we don't understand.

Most AI researchers today write programs that approximate a subjective notion of "thinking," using algorithms that learn from the vast amounts of data humans have generated online and off. After reading millions of sentences, an AI can write sentences that (mostly) make sense. As they absorb our ways of communicating, AIs learn other things too. They become racist, like Microsoft's Twitter bot Tay. They use sexist language. They make mistakes.

Bottom line: In a way, that's success. We've created artificial minds that are just as failure-prone as our own. The best way to prepare: get trained in machine repair and software vulnerability analysis. Our future AI companions will need all the help they can get.

Other voices in the conversation:

Go deeper

Coronavirus updates: First case in sub-Saharan Africa confirmed

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens.

Nigeria confirmed its first novel coronavirus case in an Italian who flew to Lagos from Milan — the first known case in sub-Saharan Africa. The World Health Organization has been working to prepare Africa's health care systems to be ready for the outbreak, which is now also confirmed in Algeria and Egypt.

The big picture: COVID-19 has killed more than 2,850 people and infected over 83,700 others in some 50 countries and territories. The novel coronavirus is now affecting every continent but Antarctica, and the WHO said Wednesday the number of new cases reported outside China has exceeded those inside the country for the first time.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 2 hours ago - Health

Ad spending on 2020 primary tops $1 billion

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Spending on the 2020 presidential primary has officially surpassed the $1 billion mark, with more than half of that total coming from billionaire Michael Bloomberg, according to data from Advertising Analytics.

Why it matters: It's the most money that has been spent this early on in an election cycle in U.S. history.

The growing coronavirus recession threat

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

In just a matter of weeks, top economists and investment bank analysts have gone from expecting the coronavirus outbreak to have minimal impact on the U.S. economy to warning that an outright recession may be on the horizon.

What's happening: The spread of confirmed coronavirus cases in Europe, the Middle East and the U.S., and the speed at which they are being discovered has set the table for the outbreak to have a larger and much costlier impact.