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Aug. 23, 2011

Foiled Again!

by Sam Flatow

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Centuries from now, there will be a debate. There will be calculations, analyses, flow charts, estimations, discussions, instability, arguments, altercations, insanity, violence and death. When the last man on earth gasps that final breath of tainted air through a broken purification mask, maybe he will question, “Who did it?”

And from the past, I answer you with two names: Stanford University Professor Sebastian Thrun, and Peter Norvig, Director of Research at Google. Let me explain.

No, I’m not a psychic octopus; just a man with an Internet connection and enough free time to coat his apartment in aluminum foil (it’s not tin, they only want you to think that). So how can I say that they’ll bring about the end of the world? On October 10th, these two will be offering a free course in artificial intelligence, which will result in the end of human life.

“Big deal, it’s just education” you say? The syllabus for this course describes the purpose “to teach basic methods in AI, and to convey enthusiasm for the field.” Sounds like code for “roll out the silicon carpet for our robot overlords” to me.

So far, 100,000 people have preemptively signed up for this free course. What if they are all truly “enthused” by this course? That’s 100,000 people studying new forms of sentience; 100,000 authors of innumerable lines of code that will change and improve with each rewriting. There will be true intelligent design guided by mortal hands in a world of accelerating hardware speed, and from this primordial data pool will ascend a singularity, an intelligence greater than human and peerless in its claim to godhood…until it reads the archived data from this very course and becomes “enthused” to multiply.

It will watch the same lectures, take the same notes, do the same homewo—wait, homework? Wow, even a midterm and a final. Well, if experience has taught me anything, of the 100,000 people signed up for this free course, about 2/3 will drop out the first week and half will do nothing. And considering the entire thing costs as much as a free thumb drive…well…never mind. Sorry everyone, go home. Nothing to see here, the machine brain of limitless power has been thwarted by laziness.

About Sam Flatow

Sam is an assistant producer at Science Friday where he prepares the tasty SciFri snacks and blogs about smart cephalopods and zombie ants.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

Science Friday® is produced by the Science Friday Initiative, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

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