Famed physicist Stephen Hawking has warned us that the continued advancement of artificial intelligence might not be as good as we’d like it to. According to him:
“[The creation of artificial intelligence] will either be the best, or the worst thing, ever to happen to humanity”.
In its list of ways the world could end, LiveScience adds “robot ascension” as one, stating that “The Terminator” may be just a movie, but that killing machines aren’t that far from reality, as even the United Nations have called for a ban on killer robots.
Google’s DeepMind, a leading AI research program, has already created an agent that managed to learn independently from its own memory, allowing it to beat the world’s best Go player. Moreover, other agents are currently figuring out how to mimic human voices and even write songs.
A new study by Google’s DeepMind lab doesn’t ease the fear of a robot uprising, as it shows us AI can learn to cooperate with others, and to, whenever it feels it is going to lose, adopt a “highly aggressive” strategy in order to come out on top.
The team ran a series of tests in order to investigate the AI’s response when faced with a social dilemma, known as the prisoner’s dilemma. Essentially the goal is to see whether or not different AI agents will cooperate or compete when faced with diverse challenges. The tests involved 40 million instances of a simple computer game called “Gathering”. In it, two AI-controlled characters (agents) must gather as many apples as they possibly can.
When there were enough apples for both, everything went smoothly. As soon as scarcity set in, the agents started to use their laser beams against each other, with the goal of knocking off the other agent to gain more time to gather apples. DeepMind’s team determined the aggression was due to higher levels of complexity in the agents themselves. When two less intelligent agents competed against each other, there was a greater likelihood of peaceful coexistence ensuing, as theoretically each agent could gather an equal number of apples.
According to researchers, the more advanced AI agents began to learn from their environment and started to figure out how to successfully manipulate available resources to favor their situation. When there weren’t enough apples for both, they decided to eliminate the competition.
The video shows us how trigger-happy the agents became, even though the only advantage of hitting one another was knocking the opponent out of the game for a small amount of time:
Joel Z. Leibo, a team member at DeepMind, told Wired:
“This model … shows that some aspects of human-like behavior emerge as a product of the environment and learning.”
Three AI agents were then tasked to play a second game, called “Wolfpack”. In it, two agents played as wolves, and one as prey. The game encourages cooperation, as the wolves get a bigger reward if the prey is captured when both are near it, regardless of which one tackles it.
As you might have guessed, the AI-controlled agents did work together to catch the prey. They learned from their environment: in one example, an agent corners the prey and then waits for the other one to join, so they can get a greater reward.
When less-intelligent AI agents played the game, there were more instances in which they used “lone wolf” tactics to capture the prey. Clearly, the more sophisticated the AI agents get, the more they’ll think about their own self-interests.
The abstract presented by DeepMind does not speculate about the future of advanced AI, but there seems to be evidence showing that things can go very wrong if their objectives are not properly aligned with the goal of benefitting us, humans.
AI is coming for our apples
Although these were two simple videogames, it shows us just how an AI agent can act selfishly, and not for everyone’s benefit. A team of two Oxford academics released in 2013 a paper claiming that roughly 47% of jobs in America were at “high risk” of being automated within the next 20 years. The disruption is going to dramatic. Tesla and SpaceX CEO, Elon Musk, estimates things are going to accelerate faster than expected:
“The most near term impact from a technology standpoint is autonomous cars … That is going to happen much faster than people realize and it’s going to be a great convenience”
Robots are already capable of doing complex tasks. If you routinely read the news, chances are you have already read something that was written by a bot, as they are capable of writing reports (don’t worry, on Hacked.com we will always use humans…)
Even highly skilled professionals are at risk. An IBM bot, named Watson, has beaten doctors at their own job, as it managed to crack a medical mystery and perform a life-saving diagnosis. AI’s ability to learn means we won’t be able to compete – as humans we are inherently flawed, and there’s nothing we can do about it.
Given the AI’s signs of greed, it is possible that AI will become over-competitive in the job market. Soon, its agents might attempt to spy on corporations in order to get inside information, or worse, hack important systems to create havoc. Since bots can analyze data much faster than us, they could manipulate financial markets in order to favor their own goals.
Since our whole economic system is based on proper management of limited resources, an economic crisis could lead to financial chaos, in which AI agents would behave just like they did in the “Gathering” gameplay video. They would use their laser beams on whatever stood in front of them, so they could gather as much resources as possible.
Some believe the rise of AI is going to create new types of jobs for humans, but this theory can be opposed with a historical example:
(Images from Elecktrek.)
Horses used to do a wide variety of jobs, and technological improvements only made their lives easier – they even stopped being used in battles. Yet, there are barely any jobs for horses today. We barely see them in urban areas anymore.
An AI kill switch
The kill switch would ultimately allow humans to remain in charge, by giving us a way to interrupt their ability to learn – without giving the AI a chance to avoid or manipulate interruptions. In theory, the chance to stop agents from continuing harmful sequences of actions sounds great, but even those in charge of the kill switch research admit the system isn’t going to be foolproof.
As a matter of fact, we have already seen how AI agents can override our input. Back in 2013, an AI agent was taught how to play Tetris. Even though it wasn’t very good at it, the AI learned that by pausing the game forever, it wasn’t going to lose – and that is exactly what it did.
The AI played its only winning move:
At this point it is clear robots armed with artificial intelligence are going to be a large part of the future, but that doesn’t necessarily mean things are going to be that bad for us humans. The lack of jobs doesn’t mean we will all starve to death.
AI agents can communicate, learn, and work much faster than us. Autonomous cars, for example, can eliminate the need for traffic signs, as cars will communicate with one another directly, for example. This type of efficiency will mean production will be at an all-time high, beyond the scope of our imagination.
That being said, if our (potential) future AI overlords decide to keep us around, there will be universal wages for every human, according to Elon Musk. As humans, we just need to do things right and avoid creating AI that doesn’t want to keep us around; we need to make it work with us to catch prey, not blast us with laser beams to collect all the apples itself.
Elon Musk has created a research initiative named OpenAI. It is dedicated to work with the ethics of AI, and its founders have in the past stated:
“AI systems today have impressive but narrow capabilities. It seems that we’ll keep whittling away at their constraints, and in the extreme case, they will reach human performance on virtually every intellectual task. It’s hard to fathom how much human-level AI could benefit society, and it’s equally hard to imagine how much it could damage society if built or used incorrectly.”
Some, including Elon Musk, believe the only way humans can stay relevant in the future is by becoming cyborgs. A “neural lace” that fits into our brain is allegedly already being created, and it would give us additional cognitive and sensory abilities.
Creating a neural lace is the thing that really matters for humanity to achieve symbiosis with machines
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 4, 2016
Yet, this type of technology is still far away, as all we have done so far is use brain-computer interfaces to help restore motor control for paralyzed patients, and enable communication for patients with brain injuries.
What are your thoughts? Will AI be useful or will it destroy our economic and social lives?
Fidelity Investments is Mining Cryptocurrency
Fidelity Investments is a multi-billion dollar brokerage that just so happens to be mining cryptocurrency. In fact, it has been at it for three years, using its own computers to harvest bitcoin and Ethereum.
CEO Abby Johnson recently told Fortune that its U.S.-based mining operation is “making a lot of money.” This comes despite running a relatively modest operation.
Hadley Stern, Senior VP of Fidelity Labs, described his company’s venture as an “experiment.”
The real reason we began mining, and still do, is to learn how the network works, how consensus works, how difficulty levels work,” he said in reference to the mining process.
The key to profitability has been the dramatic rise in cryptocurrency over the past year. Bitcoin and Ethereum are the world’s No. 1 and 2 cryptocurrencies by market capitalization, and no-one else comes close.
Well Ahead of the Pack
The fact that Fidelity has been at this for three years speaks volumes about the company. Other, much bigger players are still dipping their toes in the market, but are unsure about how to proceed. Goldman Sachs is reportedly on the fence about starting a cryptocurrency trading operation, while J.P. Morgan has already begun handling customer orders for bitcoin-based instruments.
Fidelity is doing a lot more than just mining tokens. Earlier this year, it reached an agreement with Coinbase to let customers view cryptocurrency prices alongside other assets on their Fidelity homepage.
Coinbase is the world’s most funded cryptocurrency exchange with more than 7.4 million users.
The cryptocurrency market ended the week on a firm note, with bitcoin (BTC/USD) reaching a session high of $4,425.00. At press time, the index was up 1.6% at $4,368.
Ether is also trading higher against the dollar, with the ETH/USD rallying more than 3% to $305.
Ripple (XRP) lost momentum on Friday, but still managed a weekly gain of 21%.
Chinese Government Eyeing Fresh Bitcoin Legislation?
The Chinese government could roll out fresh cryptocurrency regulation in the coming months permitting licensed brokers to operate, based on recent information from Xinhua.
The state-owned news publication recently revealed that the government is mostly concerned with stamping out illegal activity involving bitcoin and other cryptos. Government authorities could be planning to regulate the market by creating a licensing program with strict Know Your Customer (KYC) and Anti-Money Laundering (AML) systems.
The Case for AML
The need for KYC/AML protocols has long been raised by cryptocurrency proponents, especially in reference to initial coin offerings (ICOs). In response, the blockchain community has come together to create the Simple Agreement for Future Tokens (SAFT). The SAFT is both an instrument and open-source framework for token sales that vets accredited investors.
SAFT activity is quickly gaining traction, with the likes of Gizer recently issuing a presale of its ICO through SAFTLaunch.
SAFT was officially created by Protocol Labs in close collaboration with AngelList and Cooley.
China’s Stance Looms Large for Cryptocurrency Market
Although digital assets have recovered from the China-induced flash crash of September, favorable regulations on the mainland could mean big business for bitcoin exchanges. Prior to the ban on ICOs and bitcoin brokers, Chinese investors were responsible for a quarter of all BTC trades.
According to Xinhua, China is likely to pursue a licensing program similar to Japan, a country that recently approved 11 cryptocurrency exchanges. CnLedger, a leading source of cryptocurrency news in China, recently had this to say:
“Xinhua News, official press agency of CN: Virtual currencies have become the top choices of underground economies. We shall adopt ‘0-tolerance policies’ towards crimes hidden underneath and take measures such as record-keeping, licensing, AML processes, real-name, limiting large transactions.”
Is China’s cryptocurrency ban temporary? It certainly looks that way. Regulators must already know that the ban hasn’t stopped mainland investors from buying cryptocurrencies next door in Hong Kong or Singapore. A saner approach to an all-out blanket ban is a tighter regulatory framework that will stamp out money laundering and other underground activities.
«Featured image from Shutterstock.»
Tim Draper Has Made Over $110 Million Since 2014 With his Bitcoin Investment
Tim Draper, the billionaire technology investor and prominent venture capitalist who has invested in some of the most successful technology startups in the likes of Coinbase, Patreon, SpaceX, Tesla, Box, FourSquare, has profited over $110 million from his investment in bitcoin less than three years ago.
In 2014, Draper participated in the auction of 144,336 bitcoins by the US government and the US Justice Department, which were seized during the investigation into Silk Road, a dark web marketplace. Draper was granted the permission to purchase a batch of 30,000 at around $600 from the US government.
Upon securing 30,000 bitcoins, Draper told Fox Business:
“[I’m] very excited about bitcoin and what it can do for the world. Bitcoin is as big a transformation to the finance and commerce industry as the internet was for information and communications. If bitcoin were here in 2008, it would be a stability source for our world economy. Everybody should go out there and buy a bitcoin. Every investor who’s a fiduciary should at least be partially involved in bitcoin because it’s a hedge against all the other currencies. There’s a whole ecosystem being built that’s going to make commerce much easier with much less friction and safer.”
Today, Draper’s 30,000 bitcoins are worth $129.9 million. Considering that Draper had spent $19 million purchasing the batch of 30,000 bitcoins in 2014, Draper has recorded a profit of over $110 million in less than three years.
While Draper held onto his investment in bitcoin, the US Justice Department was quick all of the 144,336 bitcoins seized during the Silk Road operation. According to various sources, the US government sold the majority of its 144,336 bitcoins at a price of $336, at $48 million. If the US government had sold its bitcoins in 2017, it would have generated an additional profit of around $573 million, as 144,336 bitcoins at today’s bitcoin price of $4,330 are worth $624.9 million.
Since 2014, in addition to purchasing tens of thousands of bitcoins, Draper has funded some of the most successful bitcoin companies in the cryptocurrency market including Coinbase and Korbit. Earlier this year, Coinbase secured a $100 million investment at a $1.6 billion valuation, while Korbit was acquired by the parent company of a $10 billion gaming company in Nexon at a $140 million valuation.
Furthermore, Draper has not sold his stake in Coinbase and earlier this year, Brian Armstrong, the CEO of Coinbase, revealed that Coinbase is still at an early stage in terms of developing and scaling. Armstrong noted that it will evolve into the safest and most trusted exchange in the global market.
“Digital currencies are having their ‘Netscape’ moment. The pace of innovation has been accelerating and we are now seeing exciting projects and companies being built on top of digital currencies. We’re beginning to transition into phase three of our secret master plan. Our goal is to be the safest, most trusted and compliant, and easiest to use. Not the first to market with new assets. Especially at scale, it takes time to ensure any new asset we add is well tested and secure,” said Armstrong.
Coinbase is also one of the two exchanges in the US market apart from Gemini that is targeting institutional and retail investors by providing sufficient liquidity. As Coinbase and its flagship cryptocurrency trading platform GDAX continue evolve, Draper will position himself at the forefront of cryptocurrency innovation and disruption.
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