T-Minus AI: Humanity's Countdown to Artificial Intelligence and the New Pursuit of Global Power Cover Image
ISBN: 9781948836944
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Benbella Books - August 25th, 2020

Author Michael Kanaan was the first chairperson for artificial intelligence for the U.S. Air Force and is current director of operations at the Air Force/MIT Artificial Intelligence Accelerator.

T-Minus AI is the story of the evolution of human intelligence, as well as the development of computers. Originally, computers required specific instructions in order to accomplish tasks. But in 2012, algorithms changed so that computers would not require human knowledge to perform tasks; they would instead use data-based learning and pattern recognition to discover the problems to solve. Deep-learning allowed data to become experience to a computer. This is the foundation of AI: computer-driven methods of handling information that perform better and faster than humans can. AI has applications for tasks in all fields.

AGI (artificial general intelligence) refers to the ability of a machine to process or operate as well as a human being. Superintelligence refers to machine ability that is greater than that of a human. Neither of these technologies currently exist, but narrow AI (what we have today) does, and it has abilities that require diligent, serious, and thoughtful planning and policy development in order protect our human rights, dignities, and vision.

Since AI allows new methods of aggregating, controlling, and applying information, the huge differences between democratic and authoritarian nations means that we must be committed to protecting our traditions of freedoms and individual liberties. 

Russia will likely use its effort to advance military applications and cyber disinformation capabilities, whereas China wants to use AI to establish itself as the economic leader of the world. China’s BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) already has at least 140 countries in all continents receiving assistance from China. The author suggests that China’s attempts at spreading its 5G infrastructure to countries that will likely become dependent on it, and possibly insecure due to it, might be compared to Britain’s enactment of the burdensome Stamp Act in 1765, when American colonists were required to use only paper from England.  Neither Russia nor China has any history, need, or desire to consider the rights, dignities, or liberties of its people, or any other people, when choosing how to use AI. China’s AI use today involves facial recognition capacities that provide the Chinese Communist Party the ability to employ intentional bias against Uighurs in Xinjiang, and it plans to eventually have all Chinese people in its “social credit score” system by 2025.

While AI can enhance our lives, our best plans must include putting aside our political divisions as a necessity for common good, lest we forsake the principles in the American Constitution, and widen the risk that we could fall victim to AI policies that abandon our freedoms and rights. Thankfully, various actions taken by both the Obama administration and the Trump administration have established regulations and practices influencing the uses of AI with the aim of protecting our heritage.

I was interested is the author’s  perspectives regarding the conceivable effects AI might have on American values, considering the application of this technology elsewhere. I was also curious of his views on the sort of future we may expect as the interface of quantum computing and AI evolves. We are exceedingly grateful for his responses.

32nd Avenue Books: How do you see the evolution of quantum computing vis-à-vis artificial intelligence?

Michael Kanaan: Quantum computing and artificial intelligence are both transformative technologies and complementary in a technical sense. Quantum computing provides unparalleled processing power which will advance capabilities in the application of machine learning algorithms. At the same time, current day machine learning advances our understanding of the quantum information sciences. Think of it as a virtuous cycle, and perhaps in the future we'll see it in everyday life, but we still have much to discover when it comes to most real-world use cases. But this is an exciting time to be in both fields! 

I'm glad you asked this question because, while not directly addressed in the book, I'm an avid armchair occupier of all things quantum. For the discerning eye, I still wanted to make a nod towards quantum so I opened the acknowledgements with "A universal wave of possibilities underlies all we are and all we do. Our reality only emerges from the energy and involvement of the people with whom we entangle" to describe my gratitude towards those who helped bring this book into existence. I believe those two sentences to be quite accurate in life and science.

32nd Avenue Books: Americans are fortunate to have a history of great respect for their rights and liberties. How would you describe the attributes of the path we must follow in order to preserve that respect?  

Michael Kanaan: The human story is full of transformative technologies and moments, but our collective success or failure depends on being ready for the moment. This means we have to watch out for how we use AI and others use it, but that starts by broadly understanding and recognizing the technology when we see it. This in part was my purpose for writing T-Minus AI.

With that said, I suppose there’s a bit of hopefulness. I’m quite bullish on the opportunities at hand for AI to embody values of respect, equality, inclusiveness, and others that are foundationally centered on the idea of human dignity. But in order to get there, the attributes of the path ahead start with a broadly consistent, shared, and common foundation of the technology -- learning is a lifetime sport for us all. Only then can we bring a level of practicality and pragmatism in order to ensure our uses don't infringe on rights and disenfranchise people, groups, and communities. The brass tacks hard work to achieve that starts now.

The path forward will take different people, from different backgrounds, and with different focuses so that we’re generally aware of the opportunities or compromises we will face in the years ahead. For what it’s worth, progress often precedes peril. Developments that bring improvements for some frequently present risks for others. As long as that reality is in the forefront of our mind then I think we'll be okay and AI can be used to better society as a whole. 

Steve Brehm

32nd Avenue Books, Toys & Gifts

June 6, 2021