'Autonomous weapons are among the world's dumbest ideas': A.I. CEO

  • A.I. start-up Vicarious is getting a lot of attention for its ambitious vision of creating human-level artificial intelligence for robots.
  • The company has some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley, including Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Marc Benioff and Jeff Bezos, as investors.
  • Vicarious is moving at a rapid pace to develop these human-level intelligent robots but draws the line when it comes to autonomous weapons.

A.I. start-up Vicarious is getting a lot of attention these days for its ambitious vision of creating human-level artificial intelligence for robots so that one day they will understand the world just like humans.

In other words, Vicarious aims to create a robot with an imagination.

Sounds like science fiction, but some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley — including Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Marc Benioff and Jeff Bezos — are among those backing the Union City, California-based start-up. Founded in 2010 by Scott Phoenix and Dileep George, the company has so far raised $134 million.

By combining insights from generative probabilistic models and neuroscience — co-founder George authored 22 patents and several influential papers on the mathematics of brain circuits — computers will be able to learn from less data and recognize stimuli or concepts more easily. Vicarious claims this will allow robots to adapt readily and perform tasks in a variety of environments without reprogramming.

"A.I. is a tool that has made prediction a lot cheaper," Phoenix, Vicarious' CEO, told Squawk Alley's John Forte on Thursday. "You can now afford to put a speech predictor on your phone that guesses what you're saying so that Siri can listen to you. That's the current era of A.I."

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But Phoenix noted that there's still a big difference between what robots are doing now and what A.I. is going to do in some science-fiction distant future. "The long-term future is something I hope we get to, but right now it's a lot more science fiction than science," he said.

Where Vicarious envisions these robots is in jobs that are monotonous or hazardous. "Vicarious is focused on building general intelligence that can help robots do jobs in factories that right now are too dangerous, or too expensive to have robots do. And that's factory work and packaging and that kind of stuff."

But while Vicarious is moving at a rapid pace to develop these human-level intelligent robots, Phoenix draws the line when it comes to autonomous weapons.

"Autonomous weapons are among the world's worst ideas, dumbest ideas" Phoenix said. "If you have an autonomous drone army, your army becomes my army if I find a single bug in your code somewhere. And if there's one thing we know about software, it's that there's no such thing as bug-free software. So it's just a super-dumb idea, and I don't think people should be building it."

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