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Planet of the machines

In 1984, director James Cameron brought The Terminator to cinemas across the world, featuring artificial intelligence called Skynet which sent a machine back through time to kill the future leader of the human resistance (obviously, fighting against an army of machines).

In the 1991 sequel, a machine is reprogrammed to save the same leader against a new Skynet threat. So is the threat of future intelligent machines real?

There is a hypothetical point at which artificial intelligence, or AI, would be capable of continuous self-improvement to the point of becoming completely autonomous, and ever smarter, eventually surpassing human control and understanding. This crossing point is termed ‘technological singularity’.

Just this year, a Google computer outsmarted a human at the considerably complex board game Go for the first time. The UK government has initiated an inquiry into AI, given its rising influence and daunting advancement in technology. It is clear AI will play an increasingly important role in our lives. It is also the view of many AI researchers that super-intelligent machines will be possible.

There is, however, far less of an agreement in terms of a timeline towards reaching ‘singularity’ – a date when machine intelligence outstrips our own and goes on to improve itself at an exponential rate.

Ray Kurzweil, computer scientist, author and futurist, predicts this will occur in the next half century. Others, like Steven Pinker, a cognitive scientist, are far more critical.

The truth is that processing power alone does not give intelligence or cognition. After all, the computer that beat a human at Go was created by humans. Until humans are taken out of the loop for good, there can be no such event as ‘singularity’.

This does not eliminate the need for serious and dedicated studies into the societal changes brought about by AI. From navigation systems to medical advancements, from new manufacturing processing to unmanned air and land vehicles, we can already see many applications involving robotic decision-making and intelligence.

More importantly, AI has become fertile ground for social, ethical and legal studies to best address the next big revolution of the 21st century.

When chess champion Garry Kasparov lost to Big Blue – an IBM supercomputer – in 1997, he did not take it lightly. But nowadays, it is common for chess grandmasters to spar with computers. And as a result, human players are better than ever. It would seem, at least, that until Skynet shows up, we can remain friends with machines.

Did you know…

• We are hardwired to remember annoying songs. Sequence recall, which helps us learn daily routines, is also responsible for the songs that get stuck in our heads.

• Bright sunlight makes you sneeze. Crossed wires in the brainstem send signals from the eyes via the nose.

• Frequent jet lag can damage memory. Stress hormones released during jet lag can damage the temporal lobe and memory.

•It is impossible to tickle yourself. The brain dulls expected sensations when we cause them ourselves.

For more trivia: www.um.edu.mt/think

Sound bites

• Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking has partnered with Russian entrepreneur and fellow physicist Yuri Milner to send ‘nano craft’ to our closest neighbouring solar system. The tiny spacecraft will weigh just fractions of an ounce and will be capable of travelling at 20 to 25 per cent of the speed of light. An array of lasers would propel the tiny vehicle up to 47,000 miles per second. At that speed, the craft could reach the closest star, Alpha Centauri, in about 20 years. Alpha Centauri is 4.4 light years (26 trillion miles) from earth. The endeavour is ambitious as this distance is 3,000 times farther than any manmade craft has flown. www.inquisitr.com/2967346/stephen-hawking-to-use-nano-craft-to-explore-deep-space/

• In the future, ‘brainprints’ could replace fingerprints. Scientists can identify people with 100 per cent accuracy using only brainwaves, a new study shows. The way your brain reacts to an image of Anne Hathaway or a slice of pizza could identify you with greater accuracy than your fingerprint. That’s what scientists at Binghamton University in New York recently found in a groundbreaking study.

www.newsweek.com/brainprints-biometrics-security-fingerprints-449536

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