“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” is one of Arthur C. Clarke’s, - author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, - most memorable quotes. I still remember a Monday in the summer of 1996, when around 4 am I was in my Tokyo hotel room doing e-mail on my laptop while listening over the Internet to a live baseball game being played in New York, where it was Sunday afternoon. Today this would be no big deal, but at the time it felt like one of those magical moments Clarke had in mind, perhaps the moment when I truly understood the transformative power of the rapidly growing Internet.
Artificial Intelligence may now be going through such an Internet moment. “Artificial intelligence is suddenly everywhere. It’s still what the experts call soft A.I., but it is proliferating like mad.” So starts an excellent Vanity Fair article I recently wrote about. “Everything that we formerly electrified we will now cognitize,” observed another great article. “Experts envision automation and intelligent digital agents permeating vast areas of our work and digital lives by 2025, but they are divided on whether these advances will displace more jobs than they create,” was the overriding finding of a report published by the Pew Research Center this past August.
For the past several years, Edge.org has been asking a rather general, philosophical annual question to a diverse group of thinkers. Last year the question was What Scientific Idea is Ready for Retirement?, and two years ago it was What Should We Be Worried About? For 2015, Edge.org chose What Do You Think about Machines that Think? as its annual question.