Defending the World from Evil Robots

As technologists race to build computers that think like humans, Luke Muehlhauser is playing safety cop.

The 28-year-old cognitive scientist runs the Machine Intelligence Research Institute, which is backed by tech heavyweights including venture capitalist Peter Thiel and Jaan Tallinn, who helped build Skype. Its mission is "artificial intelligence safety," namely preventing bad things from happening to humans when computers become as smart—or smarter—than we are.

Mr. Muehlhauser believes such thinking machines are inevitable. “Intelligent behavior in humans is the result of information processing in our brains,” he says. “And we know that computers can do information processing better than humans can.”

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In the end, I suspect the safety programming will be very simple: slow down if an unidentified object gets in your path, that kind of thing. Some people will be injured here and there, but in aggregate self-driving cars will be safer than human-driven cars, and so rare ethical dilemmas analogous to the trolley problem won’t matter much in the grand scheme of things.


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