“Ridiculous” to Project “Our Psychology into the Machines”

(p. A8)  . . .  the soft-spoken, 55-year-old Canadian computer scientist, a recipient of this year’s A.M. Turing Award — considered the Nobel Prize for computing — prefers to see the world though the idealism of “Star Trek” rather than the apocalyptic vision of “The Terminator.”

“In ‘Star Trek,’ there is a world in which humans are governed through democracy, everyone gets good health care, education and food, and there are no wars except against some aliens,” said Dr. Bengio, whose research has helped pave the way for speech- and facial-recognition technology, computer vision and self-driving cars, among other things. “I am also trying to marry science with how it can improve society.”

. . .

Cherri M. Pancake, the president of the Association for Computing Machinery, which offers the $1 million award, credited Dr. Bengio and two other luminaries who shared the prize, Geoffrey Hinton and Yann LeCun, with laying the foundation for technologies used by billions of people. “Anyone who has a smartphone in their pocket” has felt their impact, she said, noting that their work also provided “powerful new tools” in the fields of medicine, astronomy and material sciences.

Despite all the accolades, Dr. Bengio recoils at scientists being turned into celebrities. While Dr. Hinton works for Google and Dr. LeCun is the chief A.I. scientist at Facebook, Dr. Bengio has studiously avoided Silicon Valley in favor of a more scholarly life in Montreal, where he also co-founded Element A.I., a software company.

“I’m not a fan of a personalization of science and making some scientists stars,” said Dr. Bengio, a self-described introvert, who colleagues say is happiest when hunched over an algorithm. “I was maybe lucky to be at the right time and thinking the right things.”

Myriam Côté, a computer scientist who has worked with Dr. Bengio for more than a decade, described him as an iconoclast and freethinker who would feel stymied by the strictures of Silicon Valley. A communitarian at heart, she said, he shuns hierarchy and is known for sharing the profits from his own projects with younger, less established colleagues.

“He wants to create in freedom,” she said. Citing the credo of student rebels in 1968 in Paris, where Dr. Bengio was born, she said his philosophy was: “It is forbidden to forbid.”

That, in turn, has informed his approach to A.I.

Even as Stephen Hawking, the celebrated Cambridge physicist, warned that A.I. could be “the worst event in the history of our civilization,” and the billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk has cautioned it could create an “immortal dictator,” Dr. Bengio has remained more upbeat.

. . .

. . .  he dismissed the “Terminator scenario” in which a machine, endowed with human emotions, turns on its creator. Machines, he stressed, do not have egos and human sentiments, and are not slaves who want to be freed. “We imagine our creations turning against us because we are projecting our psychology into the machines,” he said, calling it “ridiculous.”

For the full story, see:

Dan Bilefsky.  “THE SATURDAY PROFILE; Teaching a Generation of Machines, Far From the Spotlights of Silicon Valley.”  The New York Times (Saturday, March 30, 2019):  A8.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

(Note:  the online version of the story has the date March 29, 2019, and has the title “THE SATURDAY PROFILE;  He Helped Create A.I. Now, He Worries About ‘Killer Robots’.”)

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