Clive Cookson in the Financial Times:
Since the 1950s proponents of artificial intelligence have maintained that machines thinking like people lie just a couple of decades in the future. In Superintelligence – a thought-provoking look at the past, present and above all the future of AI – Nick Bostrom, founding director of Oxford’s university’s Future of Humanity Institute, starts off by mocking the futurists.
“Two decades is a sweet spot for prognosticators of radical change: near enough to be attention-grabbing and relevant, yet far enough to make it possible that a string of breakthroughs, currently only vaguely imaginable, might by then have occurred,” he writes. He notes, too, that 20 years may be close to the typical remaining duration of a forecaster’s career, limiting “the reputational risk of a bold decision”.
Yet his book is based on the premise that AI research will sooner or later produce a computer with a general intelligence (rather than a special capability such as playing chess) that matches the human brain. While the corporate old guard such as IBM has long been interested in the field, the new generation on the US West Coast is making strides. Among the leaders, Google offers PR-led glimpses into its work, from driverless cars to neural networks that learn to recognise faces as they search for images in millions of web pages.
Approaches to AI fall into two overlapping classes. One, based on neurobiology, aims to understand and emulate the workings of the human brain. The other, based on computer science, uses the inorganic architecture of electronics and appropriate software to produce intelligence, without worrying too much how people think. Bostrom makes no judgment about which is most likely to succeed.