While Elon Musk and Bill Gates have debated the threat of artificial intelligence, and the risk of World War III, Google executive and futurist Ray Kurzweil said Friday that he’s optimistic the world will survive AI’s rise – though leaving open the possibility of some “difficult episodes.”
“World War II – 50 million people died, and that was certainly exacerbated by the power of technology at that time,” Kurzweil, a graduate of MIT known for his bold predictions on technology, said at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, tweeted in September that the race for superior AI technology will bring about World War III, which mirrored comments from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has said that whoever harnesses the greatest technology will “become the ruler of the world.” Microsoft co-founder Gates has disagreed with Musk, arguing that AI will make humans more productive and creative.
Kurzweil, Google’s director of engineering, expressed views on Friday that were in line with Gates, though he did warn against “existential risks” threatening the survival of civilization. He noted that civilization faced the same threats during nuclear weapons proliferation and again with the eve of biological warfare. The world is rapidly seeing the same kinds of advances with artificial intelligence, with autonomous weapons like drones.
“Technology has always been a double-edged sword. Fire kept us warm, cooked our food and burned down our houses,” Kurzweil said.
Unlike biological weapons such as anthrax, autonomous technology can be used to benefit the human race. For example, the delivery of medicine around the world, he said.
Kurzweil is well-known for his predictions in the 1999 book The Age of Spiritual Machines, a series of nearly 150 predictions which he revisited in 2010 with an essay grading those predictions. Kurzweil concluded that about 78 percent of his predictions were “entirely correct.” His forecast included the rise of “portable computers,” or smartphones, cloud computing and self-driving cars. He also predicted technology like Google Glasses, the rise of wireless technology and the mass electronic distribution of books, music and movies.