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When people talk about creating an artificial intelligence, the conversation is often focused on human or superhuman AI — systems that would equal or surpass us in intelligence. But what if we create an artificial intelligence that’s deserving of respect, but don’t recognize it as such?

That’s a question I’ve had bouncing around in my head for the past several months. Over the course of human history, we’ve proven very poor as a species at successfully evaluating the intelligence of other beings, whether they’re human or non-human. Consider crows, who learn from their dead, recognize individuals, use tools, and even bring gifts to those they like — are they … intelligent?

Furthermore, if we were to create an AI that produced those characteristics, does it require the same sort of considerations that a crow does, with regards to its treatment at the hands of humanity? We likely won’t have to reckon with a human-level AI for many years, but these questions could prove more pressing.

What’s disconcerting to me about this conversation is that we don’t seem to have a good framework for dealing with questions like these, when it comes to analogues elsewhere in the animal kingdom.


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Take octopuses, for instance, which have proven to be highly intelligent and talented escape artists. Should they — or AIs that match them in intelligence — be treated differently because of the way their brains work? And how will companies treat this same question as their research pushes ever closer to that territory? Will the tastes of various executives, like Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who enjoys breakfast octopus, lead to similarly unequal treatment?

I don’t have a great answer, especially as someone who has been known to enjoy octopus. But as we reckon with the consequences of AI in 2018, I think considering differences in intelligence is important. Over the course of human history, we’ve at times decided that even other humans are unworthy of compassion or fair treatment because of a perceived lack of intelligence or nonconformance with the norms imposed by a dominant culture.

And we have to wrestle with all of that while remaining skeptical of claims around artificial intelligence so as to not fall victim to bot overhype. Welcome to the new year.

For AI coverage, send news tips to Blair Hanley Frank and Khari Johnson, and guest post submissions to Cosette Jarrett — and be sure to bookmark our AI Channel.

Thanks for reading,

Blair Hanley Frank

AI Staff Writer

P.S. Please enjoy this video of Kate Crawford’s keynote at NIPS 2017 about AI and bias.

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