Jan 28, 2015 · 1 minute

Microsoft's research chief has entered the battle between those who believe artificial intelligence could be the end of the human race and those who think that's malarkey.

That argument was kickstarted in October when Elon Musk warned that AI poses a genuine threat to humanity. He followed that warning with a $10 million investment in the Future of Life Institute to ensure AI will remain "beneficial to humanity."

Stephen Hawking later offered a similar warning. "The primitive forms of artificial intelligence we already have, have proved very useful," he said in December. "But I think the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race."

Microsoft's chief researcher Eric Horvitz, however, isn't as dour about what AI might do. As he said in a recent blog post celebrating his receipt of an award related to his work on AI:

The real-world deployment of AI research is exciting, but with that success come responsibilities for understanding the benefits, risks, and effects of the technologies. Advances in machine intelligence will likely have significant influences on people and society, and the effects will likely touch on issues in the legal, ethical, economic, and psychological realms.
He goes on to say that "principles of verification and strong software engineering, along with advances in AI around safety and robustness, can take on these new challenges."

Perhaps this is an instance where the people building these tools know how to handle them, despite fears from those viewing their advancement from the outside. Maybe it's the inverse, and believing AI can be controlled is a sign of arrogance, not familiarity.

I hope we never have to find out which side is correct -- or that if one side must be proven right, it's the argument that AI can be controlled and won't bring about the apocalypse once it's self-aware enough to know that humans are no longer necessary.

[Photo credit: Roby Ferrari (Creative Commons)]