Artificial intelligence’s new frontier
The promise and perils of a breakthrough in machine intelligence
Jun 9th 2022ShareGive
Picture a computer that could finish your sentences, using a better turn of phrase; or use a snatch of melody to compose music that sounds as if you wrote it (though you never would have); or solve a problem by creating hundreds of lines of computer code—leaving you to focus on something even harder. In a sense, that computer is merely the descendant of the power looms and steam engines that hastened the Industrial Revolution. But it also belongs to a new class of machine, because it grasps the symbols in language, music and programming and uses them in ways that seem creative. A bit like a human.
The “foundation models” that can do these things represent a breakthrough in artificial intelligence, or ai. They, too, promise a revolution, but this one will affect the high-status brainwork that the Industrial Revolution never touched. There are no guarantees about what lies ahead—after all, ai has stumbled in the past. But it is time to look at the promise and perils of the next big thing in machine intelligence.