Berkeley parks

IA, Peppa Pig and Boris Johnson


THE good news, according to Professor Stuart Russell, professor of computer science for human-compatible artificial intelligence at the University of California at Berkeley, is that machines aren’t about to take over. Well, not quite yet.

“I want to be clear that we are a long way from reaching general purpose AI,” Professor Russell told his audience during the premiere of this year’s Reith Lectures on Radio 4 last Wednesday morning.

“Talking about the IQ of a machine doesn’t make sense,” he also said, recalling that Google can’t get out of a paper bag. (I didn’t even know there was one).

Which is a relief, isn’t it? Or that was before he added a disclaimer in the form of a story.

On September 11, 1933, Lord Rutherford, the then greatest nuclear physicist, was asked if humanity would be able to release energy from the atom at any time during the next 30 years.

“His answer was,” said Professor Russell, “anyone who looks for an energy source in the transformation of atoms is talking about moonlight.”

The next morning, he added, Leo Szilard, a Hungarian physicist and refugee, read Rutherford’s comments in The Times.

“He went for a walk and invented the neutron-induced nuclear chain reaction. The problem of releasing atomic energy went from impossible to essentially solved in less than 24 hours.

Ah, OK.

The moral of the story is that betting against human ingenuity is reckless, especially when our future is on the line, concluded Professor Russell.

And this is the key. Our future. Because at some point, he suggests, AI systems will hit an “inflection point” when their capabilities far exceed ours.

By this point, he said, we’ll hopefully have thought about what that might mean and how it might work for us rather than against us.

With a bit of luck. Again, it depends on who is thinking. Last week our own prime minister ended up talking about Peppa Pig to the CBI. That doesn’t bode well for our future prospects, does it?

Rather cheeky, Radio 4’s profile on Sunday night put Peppa Pig in the spotlight, “an unlikely global media sensation projected around the world in 180 different countries,” noted Mark Coles, “with dedicated theme parks on three. different continents “.

Well, yeah, and we know Boris Johnson visited at least one of them.

What followed was a quick and cheeky talk about the birth of a cartoon hit, questions of fat-shaming and sexism in animation, and more than a few sneaky digs at the prime minister.

One of the contributors who knew the creators of Peppa Pig spoke to one of them after Johnson’s hymn to Peppa and Full British Creativity and reported. He said, ‘Oh yeah, but isn’t it interesting that a few months ago the government told the creative people to go retrain to be plumbers or to do IT? ”

Yeah, weird that. As is the fact that although the Prime Minister was keen to praise Peppa as a great British achievement, he forgot to mention another salient point. Nowadays, it belongs to the Americans.

So, how are you.

To listen: Private Passions, Radio 3, tomorrow, noon. Are you still in love with Hayley Mills? (Little joke for Prefab Sprout fans, there). Still, if you are, you’ll be delighted to hear that she is Michael Berkeley’s guest on Private Passions this week. Expect Bach and Tchaikovsky between the stories of his film life.