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Chinese edition of Technological Singularity comes at right time

Updated: 2016-05-25 11:12
By Yang Yang (China Daily)

Chinese edition of <EM>Technological Singularity</EM> comes at right time

British author Murray Shanahan says his new book on AI "isn't science fiction but speculation about the future".[Photo provided to China Daily]

In his book The Singularity Is Near, American computer scientist Ray Kurzweil had predicted a decade ago that by 2045 non-biological intelligence will have exceeded biological intelligence on Earth due to exponential changes in infotech, biotech and nanotech. Basically, man and machine will become one.

But Murray Shanahan, a London-based cognitive robotics professor, disagrees with Kurzweil's theory in his more recent book, Technological Singularity.

"Kurzweil was very precise (about time)," Shanahan tells China Daily in an interview in Beijing. "Technological singularity has a very dramatic impact on humanity."

But for Shanahan, it is a thing of the future that may or may not come, and in which human-level artificial intelligence is quickly followed by super AI.

When human-level AI is realized, it has the ability of self-improvement. As a result, a machine's intelligence will surpass that of people.

It's a revolution that is expected to bring various benefits to society, but also possible threats that force us to think about moral problems in building super smart machines with or without a human heart.

A Chinese edition of Technological Singularity was recently published by China Citic Press. It comes at a time when such concepts are being hotly discussed in the domestic infotech industry.

"The book is easy to follow as the author, a veteran researcher, has used simple language to explain AI and technological singularity," says Bi Yiling, the editor at Citic who is responsible for introducing the book to Chinese readers.

Scientists and engineers are now trying to build human-level AI in three ways: One is to scan the brain and copy its biological behavior through a computer; next is to build human-level AI from scratch, like neural networks used in the machine learning system of AlphaGo; and the third is to combine the first two approaches.

Shanahan, 51, teaches AI and computational neuroscience at Imperial College London.

When British director Alex Garland was preparing for his later Oscar-nominated film Ex Machina, he came across Shanahan's previous book Embodiment and the Inner Life, which is about cognition and AI consciousness.

In the film, AI maker Nathan tries to find out if his work Ava has consciousness.

"The movie is not only about intelligence, but also consciousness. Certainly, Ava seems to have human-level AI," Shanahan says, adding that one needs to keep in mind that it is a film.

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