Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking have recently issued terrifying warnings about the potential for artificial intelligence, should it go unchecked.
"I have exposure to the most cutting edge AI, and I think people should be really concerned by it," billionaire Tesla and SpaceX boss said in July. "AI is a fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization...."
"Unless we learn how to prepare for, and avoid, the potential risks, AI could be the worst event in the history of our civilization," Hawking said at the Web Summit technology conference in November.
Monday, Alphabet Chairman and billionaire Eric Schmidt highlighted another area of potential for artificial intelligence, this one significantly less terrifying: making really good, innovative chocolate chip cookies. And that, he says, is awesome.
"Over the past year, a small research team at Google has been experimenting with a new technology for experimental design. To demonstrate what this technology could do, our team came up with a real-world challenge: designing the best possible chocolate chip cookies using a given set of ingredients," says senior staff engineer Daniel Golovin in a blog post about the experiment.
To come up with the perfect chocolate chip cookie, Google engineers established the inputs: chocolate, flour, vanilla etc. Google employees would test a recipe, give it a numerical rating and then the system would recalibrate the recipe based on the feedback.
"We did this dozens of times—baking, rating, and feeding it back in for a new recipe—and pretty soon the system got much better at creating tasty recipes," writes Golovin.
Once the Google engineers had an AI perfected baseline cookie, they teamed up with Jeanette Harris of the Gluten Free Goat Bakery & Cafe. They added a couple of wildcard ingredients to the mix — cardamom and szechuan pepper — to see what their AI cookie-baking system would do. And the final product had to be gluten free.
Two months and 59 recipe iterations later, they had, with the help of the Google AI, a new cookie recipe: The Chocolate Chip and Cardamom Cookie.
Above, the recipe the Google AI system generated
The future of artificial intelligence is likely to include both negative use cases, as Musk and Hawking have warned of, and positive, as Schmidt has celebrated with the chocolate chip cookie success. Potential upsides of artificial intelligence include increased productivity, medical advances and innovations in the financial systems that have the potential to help low-income users, writes Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.
"[AI] could be the greatest thing ever," says Sam Altman, a top Silicon Valley tech executive Sam Altman, who is president of Y Combinator. "I really do believe that, if we could eliminate a huge percentage of human suffering with AI."
"I also believe there will be down sides. Any super powerful technology is good and bad."
Other similarly dualistic technologies include fission and social media, according to Altman.
"When we learned to split the atom, we were able to make huge destructive bombs and also very cheap, clean energy," he says to CNBC Make It. "We got Twitter and Facebook, which let us connect with loved ones but also makes us unhappy because we read crap all day. Any really powerful technology has huge good and huge bad."
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