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MIT-CSAIL's Patrick Winston: 'AI is not a threat'

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Artificial intelligence expert tells Qatar audience that humans should not consider AI to be a major threat to their existence but should use it to enhance it.


A leading artificial intelligence expert has urged people not to be alarmed about the future of machines, saying humans have a unique kind of intelligence that is difficult for scientists to replicate.

Patrick Winston, a professor of Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, told an audience in Qatar that artificial intelligence was based on a system of using “deduction rules", and not “explanation rules”, as is the case in human reasoning.

"We are different because we are the story-understanding species and nothing comes close,” Prof. Winston said.

“Many systems have the capacity of understanding deduction rules – but if a system has only deduction rules it would be as dumb as a stone. We think using explanation rules, which are difficult to engineer.

"We don't just rely on logic - we need much more than logical deductions to tell a story. We are explanation engines. If we don't see a story, we make one up."

Prof. Winston said he that he liked to think of AI as a means to enhance human existence and not to destroy it, fears recently raised by scientists including the physicist Stephen Hawking and SpaceX boss Elon Musk.

“We can use AI to do a better job rather than to replace a person. Tomorrow’s answer is human-like thinking but is not human thinking.  We can use it to gain a better understanding of ourselves and each other and that will make the world a better place.

“AI is not our top threat, I regard something like climate change as among our top threats, so you could say that we are our biggest threat.”

Prof. Winston’s research group at CSAIL studies how humans’ story-understanding faculty separates us from other species. A story-understanding system developed by his group reads simple stories, answers questions about them, asks intelligent questions, identifies concepts, retells persuasively, educates, summaries, compares and authors.

His research integrates work from several allied fields, including AI, computer science, neuroscience, cognitive science, linguistics and paleoanthropology. Prof. Winston’s early work was supervised by the late Marvin Minsky, a computing pioneer regarded as the “father of artificial intelligence”.

His public talk, “The Future of AI: Where we are, how we got there and where we are going”, was the highlight of an annual meeting in Qatar between MIT CSAIL and Hamad bin Khalifa University’s Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI).

Dr. Ahmed Elmagarmid, Executive Director of QCRI, described Prof. Winston as “one of the finest experts in artificial intelligence”.

“This is a critical time in the development of AI, which has seen a resurgence as advanced AI techniques like deep neural networks, big data and powerful computing hardware are poised to transform society in a way not seen since the industrial revolution,” Dr. Elmagarmid said.

To view the slides from Prof. Winston's talk, please click here.

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