Future of AI at SciFoo 2015


Every year approximately 200 people meet at Google in Mountain View, California for an event called SciFoo, probably one of the most famous unconferences. Innovators from various disciplines are given access to Google’s cafeterias, to rooms with funky names such as neuralyzer, flux and capacitor and are left to organize sessions where they discuss freely, present bold ideas, give demos of gadgets etc. No topic is considered too crazy or taboo, and half-baked thoughts and ideas are encouraged rather than rebuked. The outcome is a glorious mess of ideas and inspiration that one needs weeks to digest afterward.

One of the sessions at SciFoo this year, organized by Nick Bostrom, Gary Marcus, Jaan Tallin, Max Tegmark, and Murray Shanahan, discussed the future of artificial intelligence. Each of the organizers presented a 5-minute thought piece after which the floor was open for discussion. SciFoo operates under a “frieNDA” policy where people’s comments can only be reported with their permission – I’m grateful to the five speakers for consenting.

Murray Shanahan began by delineating the distinction between on one hand specialist AI (being developed with certainty in the short term, on a time frame of 5-10 years), and general AI (with a long time horizon, the full development of which for now pertains to the domain of science fiction visions). Then Shanahan raised three question-ideas:

1. Do we want to build properly autonomous machines or do we want to ensure that they are just tools?
2. If we could create a powerful AI that could give us anything we wanted, what would we get it to do?
3. Should we create our own evolutionary successors?

While Murray Shanahan opened with philosophical idea-questions, taking as a given the development of general, strong AI, Gary Marcus adopted the position of the skeptic —> Read More