AI

Artificial intelligence is not as smart as you (or Elon Musk) think

Comment

In March 2016, DeepMind’s AlphaGo beat Lee Sedol, who at the time was the best human Go player in the world. It represented one of those defining technological moments like IBM’s Deep Blue beating chess champion Garry Kasparov, or even IBM Watson beating the world’s greatest Jeopardy! champions in 2011.

Yet these victories, as mind-blowing as they seemed to be, were more about training algorithms and using brute-force computational strength than any real intelligence. Former MIT robotics professor Rodney Brooks, who was one of the founders of iRobot and later Rethink Robotics, reminded us at the TechCrunch Robotics Session at MIT last week that training an algorithm to play a difficult strategy game isn’t intelligence, at least as we think about it with humans.

He explained that as strong as AlphaGo was at its given task, it actually couldn’t do anything else but play Go on a standard 19 x 19 board. He relayed a story that while speaking to the DeepMind team in London recently, he asked them what would have happened if they had changed the size of the board to 29 x 29, and the AlphaGo team admitted to him that had there been even a slight change to the size of the board, “we would have been dead.”

“I think people see how well [an algorithm] performs at one task and they think it can do all the things around that, and it can’t,” Brooks explained.

Brute-force intelligence

As Kasparov pointed out in an interview with Devin Coldewey at TechCrunch Disrupt in May, it’s one thing to design a computer to play chess at Grand Master level, but it’s another to call it intelligence in the pure sense. It’s simply throwing computer power at a problem and letting a machine do what it does best.

“In chess, machines dominate the game because of the brute force of calculation and they [could] crunch chess once the databases got big enough and hardware got fast enough and algorithms got smart enough, but there are still many things that humans understand. Machines don’t have understanding. They don’t recognize strategical patterns. Machines don’t have purpose,” Kasparov explained.

Gil Pratt, CEO at the Toyota Institute, a group inside Toyota working on artificial intelligence projects including household robots and autonomous cars, was interviewed at the TechCrunch Robotics Session, said that the fear we are hearing about from a wide range of people, including Elon Musk, who most recently called AI “an existential threat to humanity,” could stem from science-fiction dystopian descriptions of artificial intelligence run amok.

I think it’s important to keep in context how good these systems are, and actually how bad they are too, and how long we have to go until these systems actually pose that kind of a threat [that Elon Musk and others talk about] Gil Pratt, CEO, Toyota Institute

“The deep learning systems we have, which is what sort of spurred all this stuff, are remarkable in how well we do given the particular tasks that we give them, but they are actually quite narrow and brittle in their scope. So I think it’s important to keep in context how good these systems are, and actually how bad they are too, and how long we have to go until these systems actually pose that kind of a threat [that Elon Musk and others talk about].”

Brooks said in his TechCrunch Sessions: Robotics talk that there is a tendency for us to assume that if the algorithm can do x, it must be as smart as humans. “Here’s the reason that people — including Elon — make this mistake. When we see a person performing a task very well, we understand the competence [involved]. And I think they apply the same model to machine learning,” he said.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg also criticized Musk’s comments, calling them “pretty irresponsible,” in a Facebook Live broadcast on Sunday. Zuckerberg believes AI will ultimately improve our lives. Musk shot back later that Zuckerberg had a “limited understanding” of AI. (And on and on it goes.)

It’s worth noting, however, that Musk isn’t alone in this thinking. Physicist Stephen Hawking and philosopher Nick Bostrom also have expressed reservations about the potential impact of AI on humankind — but chances are they are talking about a more generalized artificial intelligence being studied in labs at the likes of Facebook AI Research, DeepMind and Maluuba, rather than the more narrow AI we are seeing today.

Brooks pointed out that many of these detractors don’t actually work in AI, and suggested they don’t understand just how difficult it is to solve each problem. “There are quite a few people out there who say that AI is an existential threat — Stephen Hawking, [Martin Rees], the Astronomer Royal of Great Britain…a few other people — and they share a common thread in that they don’t work in AI themselves.” Brooks went onto say, “For those of us who do work in AI, we understand how hard it is to get anything to actually work through product level.”

AI could be a misnomer

Part of the problem stems from the fact that we are calling it “artificial intelligence.” It is not really like human intelligence at all, which Merriam Webster defines as “the ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations.”

The analogy that the brain is like a computer is a dangerous one, and blocks the progress of AI. Pascal Kaufmann, CEO at Starmind

Pascal Kaufmann, founder at Starmind, a startup that wants to help companies use collective human intelligence to find solutions to business problems, has been studying neuroscience for the past 15 years. He says the human brain and the computer operate differently and it’s a mistake to compare the two. “The analogy that the brain is like a computer is a dangerous one, and blocks the progress of AI,” he says.

Further, Kaufmann believes we won’t advance our understanding of human intelligence if we think of it in technological terms. “It is a misconception that [algorithms] works like a human brain. People fall in love with algorithms and think that you can describe the brain with algorithms and I think that’s wrong,” he said.

When things go wrong

There are in fact many cases of AI algorithms not being quite as smart as we might think. One infamous example of AI out of control was the Microsoft Tay chatbot, created by the Microsoft AI team last year. It took less than a day for the bot to learn to be racist. Experts say that it could happen to any AI system when bad examples are presented to it. In the case of Tay, it was manipulated by racist and other offensive language, and since it had been taught to “learn” and mirror that behavior, it soon ran out of the researchers’ control.

A widely reported study conducted by researchers at Cornell University and the University of Wyoming found that it was fairly easy to fool algorithms that had been trained to identify pictures. The researchers found that when presented with what looked like “scrambled nonsense” to humans, algorithms would identify it as an everyday object like “a school bus.”

What’s not well understood, according to an MIT Tech Review article on the same research project, is why the algorithm can be fooled in the way the researchers found. What we know is that humans have learned to recognize whether something is a picture or nonsense, and algorithms analyzing pixels can apparently be subject to some manipulation.

Self-driving cars are even more complicated because there are things that humans understand when approaching certain situations that would be difficult to teach to a machine. In a long blog post on autonomous cars that Rodney Brooks wrote in January, he brings up a number of such situations, including how an autonomous car might approach a stop sign at a cross walk in a city neighborhood with an adult and child standing at the corner chatting.

The algorithm would probably be tuned to wait for the pedestrians to cross, but what if they had no intention of crossing because they were waiting for a school bus? A human driver could signal to the pedestrians to go, and they in turn could wave the car on, but a driverless car could potentially be stuck there endlessly waiting for the pair to cross because they have no understanding of these uniquely human signals, he wrote.

Each of these examples show just how far we have to go with artificial intelligence algorithms. Should researchers ever become more successful at developing generalized AI, this could change, but for now there are things that humans can do easily that are much more difficult to teach an algorithm, precisely because we are not limited in our learning to a set of defined tasks.

More TechCrunch

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

10 hours ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

12 hours ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week

What a wild week for transportation news! It was a smorgasbord of news that seemed to touch every sector and theme in transportation.

Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo

Sony Music Group has sent letters to more than 700 tech companies and music streaming services to warn them not to use its music to train AI without explicit permission.…

Sony Music warns tech companies over ‘unauthorized’ use of its content to train AI

Winston Chi, Butter’s founder and CEO, told TechCrunch that “most parties, including our investors and us, are making money” from the exit.

GrubMarket buys Butter to give its food distribution tech an AI boost

The investor lawsuit is related to Bolt securing a $30 million personal loan to Ryan Breslow, which was later defaulted on.

Bolt founder Ryan Breslow wants to settle an investor lawsuit by returning $37 million worth of shares

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, launched an enterprise version of the prominent social network in 2015. It always seemed like a stretch for a company built on a consumer…

With the end of Workplace, it’s fair to wonder if Meta was ever serious about the enterprise

X, formerly Twitter, turned TweetDeck into X Pro and pushed it behind a paywall. But there is a new column-based social media tool in town, and it’s from Instagram Threads.…

Meta Threads is testing pinned columns on the web, similar to the old TweetDeck

As part of 2024’s Accessibility Awareness Day, Google is showing off some updates to Android that should be useful to folks with mobility or vision impairments. Project Gameface allows gamers…

Google expands hands-free and eyes-free interfaces on Android