Intelligence, Artificial and Existential

"Not to Be or Not to Be?" artwork by Shuwit, http://shuwit.deviantart.com/

“Not to Be or Not to Be?” artwork by Shuwit, http://shuwit.deviantart.com/

I just published a short piece over at SIGNAL Magazine on an increasingly public debate over artificial intelligence, which the editor gave a great Shakespearean title echoing Hamlet’s timeless question “To be, or not to be”:

AI or Not AI?

Caution tempers opportunity as experts ponder artificial intelligence

May 6,2015 – Artificial intelligence, or AI, has been on my mind recently—and yes, that’s something of a sideways pun. But it’s worth exploring the phrase from another double-entendre standpoint by asking whether the nation’s intelligence professionals are paying enough attention to AI.

In the past week I have seen two brand-new movies with AI at their center: the big-budget sequel Avengers: Age of Ultron (I give it one star, for CGI alone), and the more artistically minded Ex Machina (three stars, for its lyrical dialogue expressed in a long-running Turing Test of sorts). With Hollywood’s efforts, the uptick in public attention to AI is mimicking the increasing capabilities of real-world AI systems. And the dystopian plot elements of both Ultron and Ex Machina also are mirroring a heightened sense of impending danger or doom among many of the world’s most advanced thinkers….

…continues at “AI or Not AI?”

Besides the Hollywood attention, mainstream publications are exploring the topic. On a flight from London yesterday I read EconomistThe Economist’s new cover story, “Rise of the Machines: Artificial ntelligence scares people—excessively so,” and recommend it as an up-to-the-moment backgrounder on the economic and social questions being posed with the increasing levels of AI investment and research by the likes of Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Baidu.

My interests in the topic include the applicability, potential benefits, and any unanticipated risks of AI use in national security, including defense and intelligence systems. Last month I helped lead the National Reconnaissance Office’s 2015 Industry Day, which laid out in a classified setting the mission architectures and implementation of advanced research efforts. While those briefings were classified, NRO Director Betty Sapp has been quoted describing NRO’s Sentient Project:

[Director Sapp] cites an experiment now in limited operations known as Sentient. It is demonstrating the power of using the full architecture against a problem set by doing automated tipping and cueing from one sensor to another—acting at machine speeds, not at the pace of humans. “I can see the strength of that [complete ground system approach] when I look at Sentient in even the way it is behaving in operations,” Sapp states. Saying Sentient is doing a very good job of getting new capability out of existing assets, she allows that more people from the defense and intelligence communities have come to the NRO to view the system’s demonstrations than for any other capability since the beginning of the organization’s history. “It is demonstrating the capabilities we want throughout our Future Ground Architecture,” she offers, adding that these capabilities probably will become operational in the year 2020 or beyond.

If the overall AI topic tickles your fancy, as I point out in the SIGNAL piece there are only a few seats left for the May 20/21 Spring Intelligence Symposium where I’ll be discussing the topic with Elon Musk, in a broader discussion of the future of Research & Development. If you have a TS clearance, please join me and register here.

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