Why AI doctors could signal the arrival of superintelligent robots

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This article or excerpt is included in the GLP’s daily curated selection of ideologically diverse news, opinion and analysis of biotechnology innovation.

What would alert us that superintelligence is indeed around the corner?

We might call such harbingers canaries in the coal mines of AI. If an artificial-intelligence program develops a fundamental new capability, that’s the equivalent of a canary collapsing: an early warning of AI breakthroughs on the horizon.

Could the famous Turing test serve as a canary? The test, invented by Alan Turing in 1950, posits that human-level AI will be achieved when a person can’t distinguish conversing with a human from conversing with a computer. It’s an important test, but it’s not a canary; it is, rather, the sign that human-level AI has already arrived.

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AI doctors are a third canary. AI can already analyze medical images with superhuman accuracy, but that is only a narrow slice of a human doctor’s job. An AI doctor would have to interview patients, consider complications, consult other doctors, and more. These are challenging tasks that require understanding people, language, and medicine. Such a doctor would not have to fool a patient into thinking it is human—that’s why this is different from the Turing test. But it would have to approximate the abilities of human doctors across a wide range of tasks and unanticipated circumstances.

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