Science | Design & Technology | Computing

The computer that leaves humans in the dust

Should we be afraid of artificial intelligence? A new supercomputer can calculate many times faster than the human mind. Some fear the age of computer dominance is upon us. It is not much to look at. But it might change the world forever. Frontier, a supercomputer at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, has performed more than a quintillion calculations a second – a new record. Humans can only perform about 10,000 trillion. Researchers hope that Frontier’s super-speed computing will open up a brave new world. It might be able to simulate how stars explore, investigate the tiniest subatomic particles, allow AI to treat disease – and even open up new energy sources. Over the past few decades, machines have steadily passed humans in various fields. They can be fed more information and access it in an instant. They have more memory than us. And unlike us, they do not get tired. Computers have even beaten humans at our own games. In 1996, a computer called Deep Blue defeated chess champion Garry Kasparov. Many have worried that AI systems might one day grow so powerful that they take over the world. It features in countless films, from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Terminator. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak once said: “Never trust a computer you can't throw out a window.” Technology threatens jobs. Robots have already taken some factory jobs. AI has been trained to write articles, perform surgery and untangle simple legal cases. Others say there is nothing to fear. Computers are designed to improve our lives. Tech complements our skills. As AI entrepreneur Satya Mallick says: ”It is not a competition. It is a collaboration.” AI may be better at calculating. But humans can do much more. We have emotions. We are creative. We can think in ways beyond simple yeses and nos. As Pablo Picasso once said: “Computers are useless. They can only give you answers.” Should we be afraid of artificial intelligence? Deep mind  Yes: The robot-run future may never come to pass. But to be afraid is a sign of common sense. Our fear may help us understand more about AI and ourselves. No: Computers, said Bill Gates, “can be shaped by their user.” This remains true no matter how good they are at certain tasks. Technology is our servant to shape. Or… A weapon only becomes dangerous in human hands. We should instead fear the people that might use AI for sinister ends.       KeywordsBrave new world - A phrase from Shakespeare’s play The Tempest which was used as the title of a dystopian novel by Aldous Huxley.

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