Artificial intelligence is probably coming for our jobs. But will it stop there?
Tim Berners-Lee doesn't think so. The British computer scientist, inventor of the World Wide Web and the web browser, laid out a future doomsday scenario this week in which humans are rendered completely moot in the business world. Speaking at the Innovate Global Finance Summit in London on Monday, Berners-Lee said he fears that A.I. will someday be able to not only replace workers, but to create and run entire companies.
According to Tech World, Berners-Lee says that companies will use A.I. first to help make business decisions--but then these systems will become smart enough that humans won't be needed. A.I. will become a controlling force in the economy, creating mortgage and holding companies and "generating new versions of itself to run these companies." Then, the scientist fears, these systems will create new companies and compete against one another to become the best and most powerful.
"You have survival of the fittest going on between these A.I. companies," he said, according to Tech World, "until you reach the point where you wonder if it becomes possible to understand how to ensure they are being fair--and how do you describe to a computer what that means, anyway?"
It's not all that different than a scenario recently laid out by Elon Musk, in which A.I. being given seemingly innocuous tasks like farming could lead to mass destruction. "Let's say you create a self-improving A.I. to pick strawberries," Musk told Vanity Fair, "and it gets better and better at picking strawberries and picks more and more and it is self-improving, so all it really wants to do is pick strawberries. So then it would have all the world be strawberry fields. Strawberry fields forever."
Some tech leaders, like Google co-founder Larry Page and computer scientist Andrew Ng, argue that A.I. shouldn't be feared, since it's only as strong as the humans that create it. But Berners-Lee and Musk believe these scenarios aren't as farfetched as they might sound. A.I. already can make high-level decisions and solve difficult problems. In January, Libratus, a computer system invented by researchers at Carnegie Mellon, won more than $1.7 million in a tournament against the world's best poker players.
Tuomas Sandholm, the lead scientist behind the system, told Inc. at the time that he envisions the system having application in business settings. Since Libratus's success comes from making decisions with limited information, Sandholm said it could be used to help guide transactions, advising companies--or maybe eventually, deciding on its own--which acquisitions to make or proposals to accept.
CFOs might not have to fear for their jobs just yet, but if A.I. critics are to be believed, that day might be coming.