What would we find, if we could look into the future? Will we be living like the Jetsons.. served by machines? Or will we be trying to battle the machines.. like the Terminator? Today there's a new technology race that pits the US against both China and Russia. It’s the race for A.I... artificial intelligence... which many believe will define the century and maybe our survival. Lisa Fletcher reports.
It was a defining moment of the 20th century.
Voice: Houston, tranquility base here, the Eagle has landed.
After more than a decade of lagging behind the Russians in the space race, the US launched Apollo 11 - putting men on the moon, and the US in first place - with implications that went far beyond space exploration.
Nats: It's one small step for man. Lisa: For generations, America has dominated the advancing technologies that came from space flight, building a space station, then the space shuttle. Now, it's the US that finds itself in another race - this time with Russia and China - for arguably the highest stakes yet: The race for AI: Artificial Intelligence.
Lisa Fletcher:Do you see parallels between what's happening now with AI and the space race of the 1960s?
Elsa Kania:Well there clearly are a number of parallels.
Elsa Kania is an analyst focused on Chinese advances in artificial intelligence.
Elsa Kania: I think what is unique about artificial intelligence is that these technologies could prove quite far reaching in their implications and perhaps transformative in ways that could more radically disrupt the global balance of power.
In 1957, it was a sound that awakened America to Russia's advances - from a Soviet satellite, Sputnik. In the race for AI, it was a game that convinced the Chinese to 'go' all in. Lisa: You've identified what you think was China's Sputnik moment - only it wasn't a satellite, it was an ancient Chinese board game.
Elsa Kania: Yes, it was quite striking that when AlphaGo, an AI system developed by Google's deep mind, defeated his opponent in the game of Go in spring of 2016.
Go is an ancient, and highly complex game deeply ingrained with war strategy. So, when leaders in Beijing saw AI beating the best human, they knew it was time to act.
Elsa Kania: That was not only a moment that really highlighted the rapid advancement of AI technologies, given that previously experts had predicted that the game of Go couldn't be solved by an AI for another ten to fifteen years perhaps. That is also a moment that highlighted to Chinese leaders, including military leaders that these rapid advances in AI could pose a strategic challenge to China.
Lisa: Do you have a go to game changer technology when it comes to AI?
Elsa Kania: There is a lot of concern and very active development of swarming capabilities or the idea of using swarm intelligence to create swarms of hundreds, perhaps someday thousands of drones that could be used potentially as asymmetric capability on the future battlefield.
One place the US does have an advantage is talent. Kania says, we lead in innovation. And the Pentagon's own high-tech innovators at the "Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency" or DARPA - have increased their spending in AI, getting as much as 2 billion dollars to invest in future projects. And over at NASA, where space is the final frontier, AI is a new tool to go where, perhaps, man doesn’t even need to go himself.
Tom Engler: If you look at Mars rovers and some of the experiments that we have going on Space Station and all that, a lot of that is incorporating AI into that day-to-day operation of the vehicle, because, time delays of transmission.
Tom Engler is the director of Center Planning and Development at the Kennedy Space Center. He showed us around the control room last used for the space shuttle.
Lisa Fletcher:Do you think there's a natural intersection between space and AI?
Tom Engler: You can't robotically tele-operate a vehicle on Mars. You have to turn it loose and let it do its thing. I'd say that the way in which we've designed a lot of these deep space probes and planetary explorers incorporates AI in a large way so that they can accomplish their mission with minimal guidance from ground-base controllers.
To help speed up innovation and keep places like the Kennedy space center busy in a post-shuttle universe, NASA has thrown open the gates to private industry. Leading the way: SpaceX, which now flies off the old Apollo moon mission launch pad. Its founder, Elon Musk, has his own view of AI's potential to change our world.
Musk: I am very close to the cutting edge in AI and it scares the hell out of me..it's capable of vastly more than anyone knows and the rate of improvement is exponential.
Lisa Fletcher:One of the visionaries of our time, Elon Musk, says AI scares the hell out of him. Does it to you?
Elsa Kania: I think personally in the foreseeable future there are more reasons for concern about the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of AI technologies that are becoming more pervasive in use than about its potential for becoming "The Terminator."
A new study of attitudes about AI shows overwhelmingly – 82 percent of Americans believe AI should be carefully managed and it will be more harmful than helpful to humanity. They’re most concerned about surveillance, spreading fake or harmful online content, and AI carrying out cyber attacks.