Cognitive Science professor quells fears of ‘superhuman’ AI in new book

Research Professor of Cognitive Science, Maggie Boden, reviews the philosophical and technological challenges raised by Artificial Intelligence in her new book, AI, Its Nature and Future.

AI, Its Nature and Future book by Maggie BodenPublished by Oxford University Press, the book has been reviewed in Nature as a "masterclass of a book" and recently featured at the Hay-on-Wye Literary Festival and in BBC Two’s ArtsNight.

In her book, Professor Boden explores society’s fears of ‘The Singularity’ - a situation in which accelerating progress in technologies will cause a runaway effect and see AI exceed human intellectual capacity and control.

Speaking to the Staff Bulletin, Professor Boden said: “Many people are talking about AI now and they weren’t before. There’s a large degree of nonsense talked about The Singularity.

“While we don’t need to fear this so-called ‘superhuman’ AI, in my final chapter I write about other things which we should fear and should be thinking about already.”

Echoing recent comments in the Telegraph, Professor Boden refers to the worrying possibility of computer companions taking the place of human carers:

“There are certain uses of AI which are very worrying - the impact on jobs and employment for instance. I don’t think we should be making AI that behaves like humans if it’s supposed to be used in a human-to-human context - such as where machines take the place of carers for the elderly.”

Microsoft founder, Bill Gates, recently cited AI as the “holy grail” as he envisions a future "with machines that are capable and more capable than human intelligence". Professor Boden disagrees, saying: “He’s implying that you are going to get superhuman intelligence in the relatively near future. I don‘t think that’s so. Artificial general intelligence like this is something which is hugely difficult to achieve. We really shouldn’t be scared of robots taking over in 30 years’ time.

“Partly the book is about the way AI can provide all sorts of useful tools, very superhuman success, but all of those things are very narrow. What it can’t do is match human general intelligence. I want people to get excited about AI not just as a source of useful gizmos, but as a scientific enterprise. It helps us to advance psychology, neuroscience, and various aspects of biology. And, of course, it’s highly relevant to the philosophy of mind.”

AI, Its Nature and Future will feature in the Edinburgh Book Festival in August and the Folkestone Book Festival in November.

Read Professor Boden's recent blog post on The Singularity, emotions, and computer consciousness.