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Our AI Odyssey

The powerful effects of artificial intelligence are already being felt in business, politics, medicine, war, and almost every other domain of twenty-first century life. For all of its positive potential, the technology presents significant risks that are best addressed sooner rather than later.

CAMBRIDGE – An elder statesman, a retired Big Tech CEO, and a computer scientist meet in a bar. What do they talk about? Artificial intelligence, of course, because everyone is talking about it – or to it, whether they call it Alexa, Siri, or something else. We need not wait for a science-fiction future; the age of AI is already upon us. Machine-learning, in particular, is having a powerful effect on our lives, and it will strongly affect our future, too.

That is the message of this fascinating new book by former US Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, and MIT dean Daniel Huttenlocher. And it comes with a warning: AI will challenge the primacy of human reason that has existed since the dawn of the Enlightenment.

Can machines really think? Are they intelligent? And what do those terms mean? In 1950, the renowned British mathematician Alan Turing suggested that we avoid such deep philosophical conundrums by judging performance: If we cannot distinguish a machine’s performance from a human’s, we should label it “intelligent.” Most early computer programs produced rigid and static solutions that failed this “Turing test,” and the field of AI went on to languish throughout the 1980s.

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