Last month, British chancellor George Osborne announced that driverless lorries will be tested on UK roads. The ‘drivers’ of these 44-tonne vehicles will be computers. Similar tests have already been carried out on cars. For example, since 2009, Google’s self-driving cars have driven 1.3 million miles on all kinds of roads. The results? So far the Google cars have been involved in 18 accidents, but 17 of them were caused by humans driving other cars. Computers are already driving better than people! By 2020, the first commercial self-driving cars will be on the market. All those who hate driving will be happy: they will be able to spend their time in the car reading, sleeping, playing video games… while their car takes them wherever they want to go.
The second machine revolution
We invented machines to do the work that we didn’t want to do ourselves. Industries are full of machines that can do all sorts of tasks better and more quickly than any human ever could. Dishwashers, washing machines, vacuum cleaners… even our homes are full of machines that do our chores. Experts say that this is just the beginning. The first, mechanical revolution is being followed by a second, digital revolution. The new generation of machines, computers and robots will be better than us not just at manual tasks, but also at professional ones: we may soon have robot doctors, teachers and politicians. Some have predicted that robots will take over most jobs within 30 years. The question then becomes: what will we do? Will we live lives of total leisure, or will we become dangerously unemployed and terribly bored? Some say that there are two other, more incredible scenarios to consider.
Scenario 1: The AI Apocalypse!
If we continue creating more intelligent machines, we will eventually create a conscious artificial intelligence, or AI. Such a machine will be as intelligent, as creative and – probably – as self-aware as we are. But unlike us, an AI will be able to upgrade itself. An AI will quickly become an ASI, an Artificial Super Intelligence, and an ASI might not want to do what we, inferior beings, tell it to do. It might not get along with us. It might even consider us a nuisance or a threat, and might get rid of us, squashing us like insects. Science fiction has already investigated this scenario: think of the films The Terminator and The Matrix or last year’s Ex Machina. “Success in creating AI would be the biggest event in human history,” said Stephen Hawking, the world’s most famous physicist. But, he points out: “it might be our worst mistake.”
Scenario 2: Transhumans
Many in the fields of science and technology do not share Hawking’s fears; some even claim that they are dangerous. Every year, the American Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) gives the Luddite Award to “someone who seeks to hold back the introduction of new technologies.” The recently announced 2015 winners were Stephen Hawing and others who, like him, have “alarmist” ideas on artificial intelligence. ITIF and other optimists in the high-tech sector such as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg believe that an AI will be very beneficial for humanity. They look forward to its invention because they believe it will work for us and solve all our problems. Futurist Ray Kurzweil says that an AI will do even more than that. He believes that we will join with our intelligent machines. We will connect our brains to the AI and become transhumans: immortal super beings, part human and part machine.
Never before has our future looked so unpredictable. One thing is for sure: it will be incredible!
Read about driverless lorries:
Watch a self-driving racing car in action:
Check out Google’s Self-Driving Car Project:
What is AI? Find out in this animated video:
Before choosing a career, find out if a robot might ‘steal’ your future job. Use this special calculator:
Watch this incredible humanoid robot:
Read the open letter that Stephen Hawing and others wrote on the dangers of artificial intelligence:
Read about the 2015 Luddite Awards:
1) Read the article and complete the sentences with the correct alternative.
1. British chancellor George Osborne said that
- all trucks are now driverless.
- Google will test driverless lorries.
- Computers-driven lorries will be tested.
2. Google’s self-driving car caused
- more car accidents than humans.
- fewer car accidents than humans.
- as many car accidents as humans.
3. Machines are better than us at
- many physical tasks.
- most intellectual tasks.
- at everything.
4. The first machine revolution produced many machines such as
- robot doctors.
- the dishwasher.
- an AI.
5. The Terminator and The Matrix are films
- about possible futures.
- about the past.
- about insects.
6. Stephen Hawking is afraid that an AI might
- steal all our jobs.
- upgrade itself.
- destroy us all.
7. The Luddite Award is given to
- people who invent new technologies.
- people who are against new technologies.
- people who support AI.
8. An ASI is
- an upgraded human.
- a very stupid robot.
- an upgraded AI.
9. Mark Zuckerberg
- agrees with Stephen Hawking on the dangers of AI.
- thinks that Stephen Hawking is wrong.
- won the Luddite Award.
10. According to Ray Kurzweil, transhumans
- already exist.
- will never exist.
- might soon exist.
2) PHRASAL VERBS. Substitute the verbs or expressions in bold with a phrasal verb with a similar meaning.
hold back * take over * carry out * point out * get rid of * look forward to * get along with * find out
Computers can perform __________________ many difficult tasks. Experts indicate __________________ that they will do many more in the future. Some are afraid that advanced AIs will conquer __________________ the planet. A hostile AI might eliminate __________________ us. This is not a future to anticipate with pleasure __________________. Some say that we have to restrain __________________ the development of AI until we discover __________________ how we can control it. We have to make sure that it can be friendly towards __________________ us.
3) Match the following words with their definitions:
1. lorry 2. chore 3. unemployed 4. leisure 5. nuisance 6. threat 7. self-aware
a. free time for enjoyment and relaxation = __________________
b. danger = __________________
c. conscious of being alive = __________________
d. a domestic task = __________________
e. out of work = __________________
f. an annoying person or thing = __________________
g. a large vehicle = __________________
4) MODAL VERBS. Choose the correct modal verb to complete the sentence.
1. Self-driving cars must/would/may be on sale in 2020.
2. Computers would/can/should count faster than humans.
3. Experts claim that, inevitably, computers would/will/may become sentient.
4. Scientists should/can/will be more careful: their discoveries will/may/must be dangerous.
5. We might/can/must see the birth of a self-aware AI in the next decade.
6. Vacuum cleaners and dishwashers do chores that we will/would/could do ourselves.
7. We can/must/will create a friendly AI, or we could/can/must be in trouble.
8. The future can/will/would be shaped by new technological inventions.
9. Most people would/may/could rather do leisurely activities than work.
5) Science fiction (sci-fi) has made many predictions about the future. Think of sci-fi films you have watched or sci-fi books you have read: describe their predictions about the future. Which prediction would you like to see become reality, and why? (60-80 words)
6) Is technology a big part of your daily life? Which technological devices do you use, and what do you use them for? Which devices that have not been invented yet do you wish were invented? (60-80 words)