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“Man crushed to death by robot that mistook him for a box”: Farnham Humanists’ big AI event

Farnham Humanists in Surrey hosted a fantastic event on Artificial Intelligence and Artificial General Intelligence at an event in November. Two expert speakers, David Wood, who is Chair of London Futurists, and Daniel Dancey, who is a software engineer from Poole and Treasurer of Dorset Humanists, delivered two very stimulating and complementary talks to an audience well in excess of 80 people. The event was superbly hosted by Belinda Schwehr, Chair of Farnham Humanists.

Daniel's talk focused in detail on the actual uses of AI today and some likely ways in which AI will impact on jobs and productivity in the not-too-distant future, including his own job as a software engineer. For example, he predicted that AI will in the future be able to do the job of a GP (UK term for a primary physician). Whether this is a good thing or not depends on whether you think it will rapidly improve access to GP-like services in the National Health Service, or whether it will lead to the loss of human GPs, and similar professions, and be a social and human disaster. Daniel also identified the degradation of the entire information environment as a major risk, including fake audio and image generation.

David Wood's talk was more "high level" and futuristic. He spoke about how AI might cause a "singularity" in three, ten, or perhaps 25 years' time. The term "singularity" is often used to refer to a hypothetical future point in time when artificial intelligence or, more specifically, artificial general intelligence, surpasses human intelligence and becomes capable of recursive self-improvement, leading to rapid and unprecedented advancements in technology and knowledge. He speculated that at that point, humans would no longer be the most important “players” in “the game” because AI will produce the best creativity, the best science, engineering, and medicine, it will take all the (best) jobs, and it will take control of the planet!

David told us about a horrific case in South Korea of a man who was crushed to death by a robot that mistook him for a box. The mechanical arm pushed the man’s upper body onto a conveyor belt and crushed his face and chest. This case highlights the need for effective ethics and regulation. In this regard, David mentioned the Bletchley Summit, formally known as the AI Safety Summit, which was an important international conference focusing on the safety and regulation of artificial intelligence. This event was held on 1-2 November 2023 at Bletchley Park, Milton Keynes, United Kingdom – the first ever global summit dedicated to artificial intelligence. David said that, post-Bletchley, governments will impose some controls in the form of incentives, procurement rules, standards, regulations, and penalties. The market itself will demand regulation as evidence of safety and smart companies will get ahead of the regulatory curve.

“We should avoid allowing AI to develop its own volition or autonomy. Superintelligent AI should be a passive tool."

In terms of the future, David said that the way forward is hard but not impossible. He suggested that we should not pause AI, but we probably should pause AGI. AGI is characterised by its capacity for flexible and autonomous reasoning, problem-solving, and adaptation to different contexts. Researchers aim to develop AGI systems that can perform tasks and learn from them in a way that resembles human intelligence. He said there should be much more focus on a shared understanding of AI risks & AI safety, a shared desire for global cooperation, and developments such as tamper-proof remote monitoring and "remote switch-off". He said there should be independent auditors, supported by governments worldwide – a sort of G7+. He added "We should avoid allowing AI to develop its own volition or autonomy. Superintelligent AI should be a passive tool."

More information about the event is available on Farnham Humanists website.

From left: David Wood, Belinda Schwehr (Chair of Farnham Humanists) and Daniel Dancey. Photo by Aaron.

More than 80 people attended the event. Photo by Aaron.

'The Maltings' was a lovely venue, and there seemed to be many members from Farnham Humanists' committee on call to help, answer questions and provide information. Belinda informed us that they have humanist events throughout the year including pub socials, talks and walks. For more information on their events or if you are local and want to get in touch, do contact them here

David Wood's slide presentation has kindly been made available here or click the image below.

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1 Comment

Dec 01, 2023

It is not AI ....... its just programming. Just a simulation... It is not real artificial intelligence, that does not exist yet.

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