In what some are calling the most terrifying digital innovation headline in recent history, Anthony Levandowski, the lead autonomous car engineer at Uber, filed paperwork with the state of California to establish a nonprofit religious corporation. The purpose of Levandowski’s church, “Way of the Future” (WOTF), was to “develop and promote the realization of a godhead based on artificial intelligence . . . through understanding and worship of the godhead, [to] contribute to the betterment of society.”
In an interview with WIRED, he made it clear that filing for legal recognition as a church wasn’t a prank. Levandowski also doesn’t intend to profit from WOTF. Did anyone else do a double-take at the mention of a godhead? He explained to WIRED, “It’s not a god in the sense that it makes lightning or causes hurricanes. But if there is something a billion times smarter than the smartest human, what else are you going to call it?”
Levandowski says he chose to file WOTF as a church to spread the gospel of AI and allow everyone interested to participate in the project, even if they’re not software engineers. The AI church leader believes it’s inevitable that AI will overtake humans in intelligence, saying it’s guaranteed to change life as we know it—from employment, religion, and economic systems to the survival of the human species.
Concerned about the speed of AI development? You’re not alone
This new religious take on digital innovation concerns many, including Elon Musk. Musk said he thinks it’s highly likely AI will destroy humans. In response to the AI godhead news, Musk tweeted his thoughts, saying Levandowski should “absolutely not be allowed to develop digital superintelligence.”
Musk isn’t the only tech luminary who considers some AI digital innovation to be scary. Others who’ve expressed at least some level of concern about the not-so-great ways AI could evolve include Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, Google’s Peter Norvig, DeepMind’s Mustafa Suleyman, and Sir Tim Berners-Lee (the guy who invented the World Wide Web in 1989).
Grab the popcorn—we’ve got AI social media drama
On the other hand, Mark Zuckerberg isn’t all that worried. In posts on Facebook—naturally—Zuckerberg has expressed hope about AI’s potential.
In 2017, the Facebook founder said individuals who have doomsday attitudes about the dangers of AI are “pretty irresponsible.” Musk tweeted his opinion on Zuckerberg’s opinion: The Facebook founder’s “understanding of the subject is limited.”
Push the limits of AI digital innovations
One AI church is enough, but on an office level, there are plenty of limits you can push via AI innovation. While you decide how to make AI work for your workplace, here are three more AI happenings that may cause some heads to tilt:
1. AI babies
Soul Machines is the tech company behind robot babies. They create lifelike avatars who have enough emotional intelligence to interact with people through words and facial expressions. Company founder Mark Sagar told VentureBeat reactions to the lifelike baby trapped in a computer screen are mixed: 10–15 percent of people think it’s creepy, while 85 percent are unbothered or feel an emotional connection.
BabyX isn’t an attempt to replace human babies with robots—it’s Soul Machines’s R&D that’s helping launch a commercial project called Nadia. Voiced by Cate Blanchett, she’s a chatbot avatar for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). Once formally released, Nadia will provide information on NDIS services through empathetic speech and chat with individuals who have disabilities, and it was designed specifically to help people who have difficulty navigating typical web user interfaces.
2. AI language
Researchers at the Facebook AI Research Lab (FAIR) shut down an AI engine after discovering two chatbots had created their own language without human input. This news story isn’t about AI sentience since researchers soon realized the AI was just being efficient. Human error built an AI with no incentive to use human-readable English syntax. This also isn’t a sign we’ve hit technological singularity or “the singularity,” a 60-year-old hypothesis predicting AI and digital innovation will become smart enough to irreversibly change the course of human history.
Is this news story scary? Decide for yourself and then reassess that opinion once you read a brief excerpt from the chatbots’ convo:
Bob: i can i i everything else . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Alice: balls have zero to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to
Bob: you i everything else . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Alice: balls have a ball to me to me to me to me to me to me to me
3. AI poker
The robot “Libratus” beat four of the best professional poker players at a Texas Hold’em tournament in 2017. Carnegie Mellon researchers Tuomas Sandholm and Noam Brown explained how their AI detected bluffing and developed real-time poker strategy: Libratus used “more decision points than atoms in the universe.”
This is one digital innovation you should keep an eye on. Sandholm and Brown say their bot can do more than win chips. Libratus is largely domain independent and can be used in strategic imperfect-information interactions or any situation with undisclosed information.
There was no shortage of digital innovation headlines about AI in recent months that, at first glance, looked a little scary. While it’s up to you to decide whether you’re Team Zuckerberg or Team Musk on whether robots spell progress or doom, some recent advancements have value to offer real people, like Nadia the chatbot avatar who makes web services more accessible for individuals with disabilities.
The state of AI in 2018 is definitely complex. And the hype around the AI godhead, emotional babies, and Facebook AI’s language development won’t slow down anytime soon.