Skip To Content

Machines Can Learn Ethics and Other Predictions for AI

Julia Majors, Ph.D.

Kurzweil and Chu
Left to right: Ray Kurzweil, Steven Chu

Ray Kurzweil, inventor, author and futurist, discussed the law of accelerating returns for technology and its impact on business and society on 8 June 2016 during The Optical Society’s centennial Light the Future program at CLEO:2016 Conference and Expo in San Jose, California, USA.  Dr. Steven Chu, Nobel laureate, former U.S. Secretary of Energy and OSA Fellow and Honorary Member, led the conversation with Kurzweil covering a range of issues from jobs to ethics.

Kurzweil’s presentation, titled “Business and Society in the Age of Accelerating Returns,” depicted numerous examples, both realized and predicted, of the exponential behavior of technology. For decades Kurzweil has based his predictions, most of which have been impressively accurate, on the numerical results of exponential extrapolation.  Looking to the future, he said: “AI (Artificial Intelligence) was given its name in 1956. I predict that by 2029 – in 13 years – machines will achieve human intelligence.”

He points out that where most peoples’ linearly driven (and often pessimistic) intuition has failed, compounded doubling of computational ability has prevailed. This is true far beyond just Moore’s law, appearing in Kurzweil’s plots of Internet traffic, DNA sequencing cost, and photovoltaic capacity, just to name a few. And these trends are essentially independent of even the largest global events, such as World Wars and economic catastrophes. At most, such occurrences show up as only minor perturbations in otherwise robust curves of accelerating returns.

Willner, Kurzweil, Chu and Rogan
Left to right: Alan Willner, Ray Kurzweil, Steven Chu, Elizabeth Rogan

Projecting into the future, Kurzweil discussed the roles of nascent technologies such as 3D printing and nanobotics in the larger context of societal advancement. Just as the brain develops complex abilities from a hierarchical feedback system of simpler ones, Kurzweil sees society evolving collectively with increasingly complex abilities.

Chu and Kurzweil delved deeper into many of these topics during their subsequent discussion on stage. In the context of artificial intelligence, Kurzweil emphasized the implications of accelerating returns a few times, quenching the “us vs. them” criticisms of many. He points out that this segregated definition will have diminishing relevancy as we continue to integrate computer technologies into our physical bodies – a trend that is only now entering mainstream use.

Where Chu worries about the effects of environmental damage preventing societal progress, Kurzweil is still optimistic. He sees our abilities to advance solar energy and environmentally friendly agriculture winning this race.  This certainly provides even more evidence why science and technology will pave the brightest future for us all.

The Light the Future speaker series will tour eight international cities as part of The Optical Society’s Centennial program, featuring visionaries, futurists and Nobel Prize winners discussing how science affects our lives every day.

The full program is available to OSA members. You can view the Q&A with Kurzweil and Chu here or on The Optical Society’s YouTube channel.


Image for keeping the session alive