Artificial Intelligence has been a buzzword for the past few years, with technologies such as machine learning, natural language processing, and vision technology supported by deep learning being used by companies for a variety of purposes. However, over the past week, Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) has been in the news with OpenAI entering into a billion-dollar partnership with Microsoft to fund its research. While Artificial General Intelligence has the power to transform our lives, experts and the general public look at it with a mix of hope and caution as they are contradictory views on whether the technology will be beneficial or harmful to society at large.
What is Artificial General Intelligence (AGI)?
Artificial General Intelligence refers to the intelligence possessed by a machine that enables it to comprehend, learn, or perform intellectual tasks the way a human would. Some researchers break the technology into two – general intelligence, which allows the machine to perform general actions, and Strong or Full AI, wherein machines have the capability to experience consciousness.
Among the various tests used for the operational definition of Artificial General Intelligence are the Turing test, the Coffee test, the Robot College Student test, and the employment test. Until now, no machine has passed the first of these, the Turing test, which is considered the easiest of the four. On the other hand, technological advances such as driverless cars have proven that machines can perform some tasks as well as humans can, presenting the possibility of Artificial General Intelligence becoming a reality sooner than we expect.
Artificial General Intelligence: Revolutionary Technology with Enormous Potential Benefits
Over the past five years, AI capabilities have been advancing at a steady pace. From the development of vision in 2012, the technology has advanced to cover areas such as video games, machine translation, speech synthesis, robotic control, and writing text, all of which have been powered by combining apps developed using deep neural networks and increased computational power. While each of these relates to a single well-defined task, Artificial General Intelligence has the potential of cross-domain optimization, allowing it to use the learning gained from one domain across multiple domains. Therefore, Artificial General Intelligence will have the possibility to see connections across several disciplines (something that would ordinarily need several domain experts working together), enabling it to solve multidisciplinary problems. Its use could extend to areas, such as improving healthcare and medicine, developing green technologies to manage climate change, improving food production and personalization of education, which could have far-reaching benefits for the human race.
OpenAI: The path to Discovering and Enacting safe AGI
While Artificial General Intelligence enthusiasts talk about the potential that it has to transform our lives, some experts warn that it could also have catastrophic effects if it is not properly designed. For instance, an advanced AI could run an unintended program or function that can’t be rectified while it’s running, leading to a catastrophe. Similarly, there is a high risk of the technology being used with malicious intent to harm a large population or its economic benefits only being transferred to a few, making the rich richer and the poor poorer.
OpenAI aims to develop AGI for the benefit of the entire humankind. The focus is not merely on AI research and advanced software engineering. OpenAI intends the safe and secure deployment of Artificial General Intelligence that not only prepares society for its use but also guarantees that its economic benefits trickle down to a broader base.
Microsoft invests in and partners with OpenAI to support building AGI
OpenAI, which was a non-profit until this year, changed to operate as a hybrid that serves as a for-profit as well as a nonprofit company. The reason for the change was that the company’s leadership believes that they cannot continue to offer cutting edge technology without a larger base of funds.
Microsoft has invested $1 billion in OpenAI to partner in the development of a hardware and software platform for Microsoft Azure, which will be scale to AGI. With the investment, Microsoft becomes the exclusive cloud services provider for OpenAI and will work together with the company to extend the use of Microsoft Azure to larger AI systems.
How Far Are We from Achieving Artificial ‘General’ Intelligence?
While the advancements in AI point towards the possibility of technology being able to perform the functions of a human brain, such as playing chess, identifying objects or images and even interacting with humans in a personalized and natural manner, AGI seems like a distant reality. However, with the fast-paced progress in AI capabilities over the past few years, it could just as well arrive faster than we expect it to do so.
A recent book titled Architects of Intelligence by Martin Ford includes the views of experts about how soon AGI will be developed. At one end, the predictions point to AGI arriving as early as 2030, whereas some experts opine that it could be as late as 2200 (the average estimate was 2099).
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