It is curious why a robot feature titled, Ay Robot! Scientists Worry Machines May Outsmart Man found its way onto the front page of the July 26th New York Times. The story is about a group of scientists who met on February 25th at the Asilomar Conference Grounds and will release a report later this year (when?) about their concerns over social challenges arising from research on artificial intelligence. Given the location, the site for a famous 1975 meeting and report on genomics, the conference may be seen as of symbolic importance. The AAAI organized the event, so perhaps the group includes many luminaries, but they are not listed in the article. Eric Horovitz, the organizer and Microsoft research who is presently president of the the AAAI, and Tom Mitchell of Carnegie Mellon University are the only attendees either mentioned or quoted in the article. Mitchell's reflections are of particular interest to readers of this blog.
Tom Mitchell, a professor of artificial intelligence and machine learning at Carnegie Mellon University, said the February meeting had changed his thinking. “I went in very optimistic about the future of A.I. and thinking that Bill Joy and Ray Kurzweil were far off in their predictions,” he said. But, he added, “The meeting made me want to be more outspoken about these issues and in particular be outspoken about the vast amounts of data collected about our personal lives.”
I am not surprised that John Markoff wrote this features as he has been covering such concerns for a long time. But, for those of us with a long-standing interest in challenges arising from advanced research on AI, it is quite confusing as to why the editors of the newspaper decided to feature this story on the front page at this time given that there is no immediate news here.