Professor, lawyer debate the pros and cons of artificial intelligence

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As artificial intelligence becomes increasingly prevalent, some have positive outlooks on where AI could take us, while others are doubtful.

On Tuesday, the Texas Political Union held a debate about AI, where former Texas Assistant Attorney General Daniel Abrahamson and computer science professor Raymond Mooney debated and discussed the consequences and benefits of using more AI in everyday life.

Abrahamson, the first speaker, argued that AI would be a disaster for mankind. He is a lawyer that has worked for the federal, local and state governments.

Abrahamson began by saying that if we do not have conversations about AI now, it could have the potential to seriously harm mankind.

His first point regarded the differences between strong and weak AI.

“I think what we are seeing is more of a reiteration of weak AI,” Abrahamson said. “You will see it on your iPhone with Siri. You may call into a call center and hear a voice that would have pretty good language recognition. These types of changes are more minor, but they are going to cause shifts in our economy.”

Abrahamson’s main concern of advancing AI were the jobs and lives that would be put on the line. He pointed to the example of self-driving cars and its possible military applications.

“Sometimes you will see self-driving cars for example, but there is an obvious vulnerability to this,” he said. “These cars are stored on a central server that gives hackers the potential to take control of your vehicle. The greater risk, I think, is the military risk with an autonomous weapons system, nanobots and robotic soldiers.”

Mooney, the second speaker, argued AI will not be a disaster to mankind and will, in fact, be useful.

Mooney said AI is a very slow process. With Siri and Alexa as examples, he said it has taken years for voice recognition to reach a point to where it actually works efficiently.

The main concern throughout the debate was that AI has a huge potential to harm humans.

“A lot of AI recently has really focused on what typically goes by the name of safe, human-centered AI,” Mooney said. “So, all technology could be used for good or evil, and it is up to us to decide how we use AI and make sure it benefits humanity and makes the world a better place.”

He pointed out that although AI can be harmful, it is up to humans to test AI and place the proper restrictions.

“One thing I feel is that people tend to quickly anthropomorphize AI,” Mooney said. “AI is not similar to us. AI is going to be a very foreign type of intelligence. Our intelligence focuses on surviving and reproducing. Robots don’t necessarily have those goals. We are going to program what their main goals are and what their limitations are and what their motivations are so that we can prevent them from destroying us.”

Rishika Kolluri, a biomedical engineering freshman who attended the debate, said she thought both sides made important points.

“I agree with (Abrahamson) that conversations like these need to continue in order to better artificial intelligence and ensure that it doesn’t cause a disaster for the world,” Kolluri said.