Mutation. It is the key to our evolution. It has enabled us to evolve from a single celled organism into the dominant species on the planet. This process is slow, normally taking thousands and thousands years, but every few hundred millennia evolution leaps forward.
Those obviously aren't my words… that was said by Professor X during the opening credit scene of the movie X-Men. But it popped into my head last night as the news from Google broke that their artificial intelligence arm - called Deep Mind - had just reached a "turning point in history." Deep Mind's AI algorithm, AlphaZero, is now showing human-like intuition. This is something that AI researchers have said is still years if not a decade away.
Has evolution leapt forward? Maybe… but it's not human. AlphaZero is only a year old, and it began its learning process just like we do… at school. Its classroom was a chess program, and within just four hours it completely mastered the game. But here's the thing… it was never programmed on how to win... it taught itself. Chess programs have existed in the past, but their play is based on the calculation of outcomes using programmed strategies. AlphaZero on the other hand learned and created its own strategies. Its moves baffle human chess masters. Chess Grandmaster Matthew Sadler said:
It's like discovering the secret notebooks of some great player from the past.
The main reason AlphaZero's moves are so baffling is because its thinking is so unlike a human. It places quote "far less value on individual pieces… sacrificing its soldiers for a better position in the skirmish."
If this isn't kicking off warning lights inside AI laboratories we're in big trouble.
If this isn't kicking off warning lights inside AI laboratories we're in big trouble. What happens if AlphaZero is employed in the Department of Defense? Can you imagine that same strategy sending orders to our military? What about healthcare? A doctor would never think about sacrificing a patient… but a machine would. If those two scenarios sound outlandish, consider that both Russia and China are currently developing AI for military purposes. Do you think we're just going to sit that one out? And companies like Amazon and Google are developing AI to revolutionize healthcare. They are said to be just a few short years away.
Human level intuition and creativity in AI is indeed a turning point in history. It's the first step towards Artificial General Intelligence. We may ultimately look back on this development as the date when everything changed. Professor X said that evolution has enabled human beings to be the dominant species on the planet, and major evolution just leaped forward… but it wasn't human.