DeepMind has a method to make artificial intelligence safe
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DeepMind has a method to make artificial intelligence safe

Concerns over the safety of artificial intelligence (AI) are fashionable. These concerns have long occupied academics and science fiction writers, but a number of leading technocrats, most notably Elon Musk, have publicized them in recent years. There are a number of ways, they speculate, that AI could go wrong – but they all boil down to a super-intelligent machine going out of control. DeepMind, Google’s world-leading AI laboratory, takes these things seriously.

Alphabet’s share price has risen by 36% year to date

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You don’t have to subscribe to apocalyptic scenarios to worry about AI – the same algorithms that work on facial recognition, natural language processing, and strategy games like Go and Chess, could go haywire. Now, DeepMind has a test to check that they haven’t.

The test involves putting those algorithms in question through a simple, 2D, computer game called “Gridworld”.  As the algorithm plays the game, researchers assess it with reference to nine safety features. They’re looking for AIs to exhibit behaviours like the ability to modify themselves, and learning to cheat. Behaviour that is unsafe in Gridworld could well be unsafe in the real world. Other functions Gridworld measures include unintended side effects of actions, and what an AI does when caught in intractable problems.  

Gridworld is not just designed to make DeepMind’s software safer – the company has released it to the public in the hopes that a number of researchers will use and download it. Whether this safety priming is enough for the likes of Elon Musk remains to be seen – but it’s certainly a sign that the biggest player in the AI game is taking those concerns seriously.

Disclosure

Dominion holds Alphabet, the parent company of Google, in its Global Trends Ecommerce Fund.


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