With the Hollywood blockbuster Transcendence
playing in cinemas, with Johnny Depp and Morgan Freeman showcasing
clashing visions for the future of humanity, it's tempting to dismiss
the notion of highly intelligent machines as mere science fiction. But
this would be a mistake, and potentially our worst mistake in history.
Artificial-intelligence (AI) research is now progressing rapidly. Recent
landmarks such as self-driving cars, a computer winning at Jeopardy!
and the digital personal assistants Siri, Google Now and Cortana are
merely symptoms of an IT arms race fuelled by unprecedented investments
and building on an increasingly mature theoretical foundation. Such
achievements will probably pale against what the coming decades will
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