When most people think of AI’s relative strengths over humans, they think of its convergent intelligence. With superior memory capacity and processing power, computers outperform people at rules-based games, complex calculations, and data storage: chess, advanced math, and Jeopardy. What computers lack, some might say, is any form of imagination, or rule-breaking curiosity—that is, divergence.
But what if that common view is wrong? What if AI’s real comparative advantage over humans is precisely its divergent intelligence—its creative potential? That’s the subject of the latest episode of the podcast Crazy/Genius, produced by Kasia Mychajlowycz and Patricia Yacob.
AI’s divergent potential is one of the hottest subjects in the field. This spring, several dozen computer scientists published an unusual paper on the history of AI. This paper was not a work of research. It was a collection of stories—some ominous, some hilarious—that showed AI shocking its own designers with its ingenuity. Most of the stories involved a kind of AI called machine learning, where programmers give the computer data and a problem to solve without explicit instructions, in the hopes that the algorithm will figure out how to answer it.
First, an ominous example. One algorithm was supposed to figure out how to land a virtual airplane with minimal force. But the AI soon discovered that if it crashed the plane, the program would register a force so large that it would overwhelm its own memory and count it as a perfect score. So the AI crashed the plane, over and over again, presumably killing all the virtual people on board. This is the sort of nefarious rules-hacking that makes AI alarmists fear that a sentient AI could ultimately destroy mankind. (To be clear, there is a cavernous gap between a simulator snafu and SkyNet.)