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Prologue: Terrified

The book begins with a recollection of a meeting between the author and her doctoral advisor, Douglas Hofstadter, and a group of Google employees at the HQ of Google Maps.


Key Points:

- Google is becoming an applied A. I company. Its founders have long been interested in A. I research, and it is the glue that holds its diverse range of products together.

- A. I expert Ray Kurzweil (who was hired by Google) predicts that there will be a “singularity”: a point where computers exceed humans in intelligence. Google has invested a lot of time and resources into reaching this point as quickly as possible.

- Douglas Hofstadter wrote a book called GEB in the 1970s which inspired the author to pursue A. I research. He is alarmed at Google’s work towards the singularity.

- Hofstadter is alarmed, not that machine would become too smart or invasive, but that ideas, thoughts emotions and even consciousness would become too easy to replicate and make the things he valued most about humanity would become merely “a bag of tricks”, disappointingly easy to mechanise.

The author employs two examples of things Hofstadter predicted wrongly:

1) Chess – He predicted that machines would never be able to beat the very best, human chess players. Rapid increases in computer processing power meant that a computer’s “look ahead” approach could beat Kasparov. He had been beaten by brute force.

2) Music – He predicted that machines would be able to (in the distant future) write beautiful music. David Cope’s EMI in the mid-1990s wrote music in the style of Chopin that music experts could not distinguish from one written by Chopin.

- The author discovered there to be a crisis within A.I. Some believe that A. I is dangerously close to becoming smarter than us, rendering humans obsolete, but others believe any such progress towards having “general human-level A.I” is insignificant.

- The author aims to write about the true state of affairs in A.I. This is not a history of A. I but rather an attempt to explore the A.I methods that may affect a person’s life now and in the next few decades and the real progress within this area of research.

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