Safe artificial intelligence requires cultural intelligence

Gillian Hadfield at TechCrunch: “Knowledge, to paraphrase British journalist Miles Kington, is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is knowing there’s a norm against putting it in a fruit salad.

Any kind of artificial intelligence clearly needs to possess great knowledge. But if we are going to deploy AI agents widely in society at large — on our highways, in our nursing homes and schools, in our businesses and governments — we will need machines to be wise as well as smart.

Researchers who focus on a problem known as AI safety or AI alignment define artificial intelligence as machines that can meet or beat human performance at a specific cognitive task. Today’s self-driving cars and facial recognition algorithms fall into this narrow type of AI.

But some researchers are working to develop artificial general intelligence (AGI) — machines that can outperform humans at any cognitive task. We don’t know yet when or even if AGI will be achieved, but it’s clear that the research path is leading to ever more powerful and autonomous AI systems performing more and more tasks in our economies and societies.

Building machines that can perform any cognitive task means figuring out how to build AI that can not only learn about things like the biology of tomatoes but also about our highly variable and changing systems of norms about things like what we do with tomatoes.

Humans live lives populated by a multitude of norms, from how we eat, dress and speak to how we share information, treat one another and pursue our goals.

For AI to be truly powerful will require machines to comprehend that norms can vary tremendously from group to group, making them seem unnecessary, yet it can be critical to follow them in a given community.

Tomatoes in fruit salads may seem odd to the Brits for whom Kington was writing, but they are perfectly fine if you are cooking for Koreans or a member of the culinary avant-garde.  And while it may seem minor, serving them the wrong way to a particular guest can cause confusion, disgust, even anger. That’s not a recipe for healthy future relationships….(More)”.