University of the Philippines Los Baños
Wednesday, 28 March 2018 10:23

Former presidential candidate warns about tech addiction, AI threat

RICHH seminar series

In the past few decades, technology has seemed to progress from a steady march to a frantic sprint. However, this continuous development of new and varied forms of technology, particularly the spread of social media and the rise of artificial intelligence, carries with it a major drawback, one that is not so often discussed.

This was the central topic of the latest seminar from the Resiliency in Crops and Human Health (RICHH) Talks Series. Its recent installment, entitled “Spirit science, humanity, sustainability, artificial intelligence: present & future,” featured Nicanor “Nick” Perlas, an environmentalist, civil society leader, writer, activist, and a candidate in the 2010 presidential elections.

Perlas’ talk, “The Philippine Youth in the era of artificial intelligence,” looked at the negative side of too much fascination with social media. He called it “tech addiction” and inferred how Facebook’s creators designed the social media site to be as addictive as possible by making users more self-absorbed and egotistic, citing interviews made by former Facebook top executives who have spoken out against it.

Perlas also cited the imminent rise of artificial intelligence (AI) as a bigger concern, especially that robots have replaced human workers in some industries. Unless there are significant adaptations to the curriculum, most of the youth currently in college right now would be jobless in 5-10 years due to being replaced by automation and AI, Perlas said.

Perlas stated that any activity that would require intelligence would be something that an AI could do. Therefore, the question was not “What can AI do?”, but rather, “What should AI do?” The danger, he said, lay in the fact that AI could be programmed to develop other AI – ones that would be better in all aspects than the original one. 

This recursive self-improvement would very quickly result in what is called an “intelligence explosion” and would lead to the creation of an artificial super-intelligence (ASI), Perlas said. Should this ASI prove hostile to humanity, there would be very little that humans could do to prevent it from taking over, as almost everything from power generation, to agriculture, up to military defenses would be automated and thus vulnerable to its control.

The only way to prevent this is to solve what Perlas referred to as “the alignment challenge” or ensuring that should an ASI be created, its alignment would be benevolent and in favor of humanity. Fulfilling this would be essential for humanity’s continued survival should AI takeover.

Perlas ended his talk by giving several recommendations that he said he has put forward to the Philippine Senate. This included actions such as the institution of a national monitoring system with regard to AI and AI trends, the creation of a task force dedicated to solving the alignment challenge, and vigilance and precautionary principles. The last recommendation was one he heartily endorsed to all of the seminar attendees, alongside with spreading awareness of the issue to others.

The seminar, which was held on March 15 at the ASH Building’s Room 100, reflected the variety of topics of the RICHH Talk Series, sponsored and organized by the Institute of Crop Science. (AGBPeralta)