Contemplating the profound power of human intelligence led me to ask a simple question, one that has consumed my life ever since: What if we could distill the essence of what makes us humans so productive and capable into software, into an algorithm? Finding the answer might unlock unimaginably powerful tools to help tackle our most intractable problems. Here might be a tool, an impossible but extraordinary tool, to help us get through the awesome challenges of the decades ahead, from climate change to aging populations to sustainable food.
With this in mind, in a quaint Regency-era office overlooking London’s Russell Square, I co-founded a company called DeepMind with two friends, Demis Hassabis and Shane Legg, in the summer of 2010. This was our goal, one that in retrospect still feels as ambitious and crazy and hopeful as it did back then: replicate the very thing that makes us unique as a species, our intelligence.
To achieve this objective, we would need to create a system that could imitate and then eventually outperform all human cognitive abilities, from vision and speech to planning and imagination, and ultimately empathy and creativity. Since such a system would benefit from the massively parallel processing of supercomputers and the explosion of vast new sources of data from across the open web, we knew that even modest progress toward this goal would have profound societal implications.
It certainly felt pretty far-out at the time. Back then, widespread adoption of artificial intelligence was the stuff of daydreams, more fantasy than fact, the province of a few cloistered academics and wild-eyed science fiction fans. But, as I write this and think back over the last decade, progress in AI has been nothing short of staggering. DeepMind became one of the world’s leading AI companies, “achieving a string of breakthroughs. The speed and power of this new revolution have been surprising even to those of us closest to its cutting edge. Over the writing of this book, the pace of progress in AI has been breathtaking, with new models and new products coming out every week, sometimes every day. It’s clear this wave is accelerating.
Today, AI systems can almost perfectly recognize faces and objects. We take speech-to-text transcription and instant language translation for granted. AI can navigate roads and traffic well enough to drive autonomously in some settings. Based on a few simple prompts, a new generation of AI models can generate novel images and compose text with extraordinary levels of detail and coherence. AI systems can produce synthetic voices with uncanny realism and compose music of stunning beauty. Even in more challenging domains, ones long thought to be uniquely suited to human capabilities like long-term planning, imagination, and simulation of complex ideas, progress leaps forward.
AI has been climbing the ladder of cognitive abilities for decades, and it now looks set to reach human-level performance across a very wide range of tasks within the next three years. That is a big claim, but if I’m even close to right, the implications are truly profound. What had, when we founded DeepMind, felt quixotic has become not just plausible but seemingly inevitable.
From the start, it was clear to me that AI would be a powerful tool for extraordinary good but, like most forms of power, one fraught with immense dangers and ethical dilemmas, too. I have long worried about not just the consequences of advancing AI but where the entire technological ecosystem was heading. Beyond AI, a wider revolution was underway, with AI feeding a powerful, emerging generation of genetic technologies and robotics. Further progress in one area accelerates the others in a chaotic and cross-catalyzing process beyond anyone’s direct control. It was clear that if we or others were successful in replicating human intelligence, this wasn’t just profitable business as usual but a seismic shift for humanity, inaugurating an era when unprecedented opportunities would be matched by unprecedented risks.
Excerpt From: Mustafa Suleyman;Michael Bhaskar;. “Technology, Power, and the Twenty-first Century’s Greatest Dilemma.”