How can we harness the power of super intelligent AI while also preventing the catastrophe of robotic takeover? As we move closer toward creating all-knowing machines, AI pioneer Stuart Russell is working on something a bit different: robots with uncertainty. Hear his vision for human-compatible AI that can solve problems using common sense, altruism and other human values (Official Ted site).

Why you should listen

Stuart Russell is a professor (and formerly chair) of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at University of California at Berkeley. His book Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach  <>  (with Peter Norvig) is the standard text in AI; it has been translated into 13 languages and is used in more than 1,300 universities in 118 countries. His research covers a wide range of topics in artificial intelligence including machine learning, probabilistic reasoning, knowledge representation, planning, real-time decision making, multitarget tracking, computer vision, computational physiology, global seismic monitoring and philosophical foundations.

Who is he

Stuart Russell received his B.A. with first-class honours in physics from Oxford University in 1982 and his Ph.D. in computer science from Stanford in 1986. He then joined the faculty of the University of California at Berkeley, where he is Professor (and formerly Chair) of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences and holder of the Smith-Zadeh Chair in Engineering. He is also an Adjunct Professor of Neurological Surgery at UC San Francisco and Vice-Chair of the World Economic Forum’s Council on AI and Robotics.

He also works for the United Nations, developing a new global seismic monitoring system for the nuclear-test-ban treaty. His current concerns include the threat of autonomous weapons and the long-term future of artificial intelligence and its relation to humanity

Discussion Questions

  1. What is the import of his opining Go board example?

2. Noriko [Arai] mentioned that reading is not yet happening in machines, at least with understanding. But that will happen, if they also have access to more information, they’ll be able to make better decisions in the real world than we can. Is that a good thing?

3. Our entire civilization, everything that we value, is based on our intelligence. And if we had access to a lot more intelligence, then there’s really no limit to what the human race can do. And I think this could be, as some people have described it, the biggest event in human history. So why are people saying things like this, that AI might spell the end of humanity? Is this a new thing? Is it just Elon Musk and Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking?

4. Explain the modern terminology “the value alignment problem” by reference to King Midas.

5. So this single-minded pursuit in a very defensive mode of an objective that is, in fact, not aligned with the true objectives of the human race — that’s the problem that we face. Think of this in terms of Terminator and Skynet.

6. Altruism, human values, and information about what it is that we prefer our lives to be like are his three key points. Explain to someone why he sees these three as the key rules for an AI?

7. Probably the most difficult part, from my point of view as an AI researcher, is the fact that there are lots of us, and so the machine must somehow trade off, weigh up the preferences of many different people, and there are different ways to do that. Economists, sociologists, moral philosophers have understood that, and we are actively looking for collaboration. Can there be true collaboration between humanity and Machine intelligent life? Explain your answer.

Author’s Reading List

The Quest for Artificial Intelligence

Nils Nilsson
Cambridge University Press, 2009

An explanation of the goals of AI and a history of attempts to achieve them, from one of the early pioneers.

Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach (3rd edition)


Stuart Russell and Peter Norvig
Pearson, 2010

A not-too-terrible textbook explaining all branches of artificial intelligence. The first two chapters are easy reading. The rest require a good level of high-school mathematics to understand all of the technical sections. The book’s website has a lot of additional information about AI.

“Q&A: The Future of Artificial Intelligence”

Stuart Russell

Answers to some frequently asked questions about AI, and responses to some frequent misconceptions.

How AI Might Make Us Better People with Stuart Russell


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