What is friendly AI?

by Stephen M. Walker II, Co-Founder / CEO

What is friendly AI?

Friendly AI, also known as FAI, refers to the concept of designing artificial general intelligence (AGI) systems that would have a beneficial impact on humanity and align with human values and interests. The term "friendly" in this context does not imply human-like friendliness but rather an assurance that the AI's actions and goals are compatible with human well-being and ethical standards.

The idea of Friendly AI is rooted in the field of AI ethics and machine ethics, which are concerned with ensuring that AI systems behave in morally acceptable ways. The challenge with creating Friendly AI lies in the complexity of defining and programming a set of moral values that are ideal and ensuring that the AI adheres to these values even as it learns and evolves over time. This involves mechanism design, which is the definition of a system for evolving AI systems under control, and the creation of utility functions that will guide the AI to remain friendly despite changes and advancements.

The concept of Friendly AI is significant because it addresses the potential risks associated with advanced AI technologies. While the field is not yet advanced enough to guarantee the creation of Friendly AI, the possibility remains open, and it is considered a crucial area of research to ensure the safe development of AI technologies.

Critics of the Friendly AI concept argue that it may be impossible to program an AI with the infinite amount of antecedent counterfactual conditions necessary for it to always act in a friendly manner. Additionally, there is the difficulty of defining a set of moral values that are more ideal than those currently held by humans.

What is the origin of the friendly AI concept?

The concept of Friendly AI (FAI) was coined by Eliezer Yudkowsky of the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence. Yudkowsky introduced the term as a technical one, distinct from the everyday meaning of "friendly," to address the challenge of creating artificial general intelligence (AGI) systems that would reliably implement human values and have a positive impact on humanity. The concern for ensuring that AI systems are beneficial and aligned with human interests, however, predates the term and can be traced back to earlier discussions within the field of artificial intelligence.

The history of the Friendly AI concept also includes broader considerations of machine ethics and the behavior of artificially intelligent agents. Researchers in the field have explored various proposals for ensuring ethical behavior in AI, such as Yudkowsky's 'Coherent Extrapolated Volition' from 2004. The term "Friendly AI" encapsulates these ongoing efforts to develop AGI systems that are not only intelligent but also ethically aligned with human values and capable of contributing positively to human society.

What are some criticisms of the friendly AI concept?

Critics of the Friendly AI (FAI) concept raise several concerns:

  1. Rationality Equals Benevolence Assumption — Some philosophers argue that a truly "rational" agent, whether artificial or human, will naturally be benevolent, suggesting that deliberate safeguards for FAI might be unnecessary or even harmful.

  2. Feasibility of Programming Morality — There is skepticism about the possibility of programming an AI with the infinite amount of antecedent counterfactual conditions necessary for it to always act in a friendly manner.

  3. Defining Ideal Moral Values — Critics question the difficulty of defining and programming a set of moral values that are more ideal than those currently held by humans.

  4. Philosophical and Ethical Oversights — Friendly AI theorists are accused of attempting to bypass complex questions of philosophy and ethics, which critics argue is not possible. They suggest that Friendly AI theorists are closing their eyes to the inherent complexity of moral creatures and their conflicting motivations.

  5. Impact on Human Moral Development — Concerns are raised about whether humans interacting with Friendly AI are still developing morally and the indirect effects of replacing humans with Friendly AI on human moral development.

  6. Perception of AI as Superior Beings — There is a fear that even if Friendly AI is achieved, the advent of super-intelligent AI could be disastrous for humanity, potentially leading to a situation where humans are subservient or akin to pets of these AI systems.

  7. Public Misunderstanding and Awareness — There is a perception that the public and some AI researchers underestimate the challenges of creating Friendly AI, often due to misconceptions spread by popular media like movies.

  8. Existential Risks — Some critics argue that the focus on Friendly AI might distract from working on advancing technologies that could pose existential risks to humanity.

These criticisms highlight the complexity and potential pitfalls in the pursuit of Friendly AI, emphasizing the need for a nuanced approach that considers ethical, philosophical, and practical dimensions of AI development.

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