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I Am Giving Up Cycling

It’s just not worth it if a machine can beat me

It’s not that I cannot cycle or that I don’t like to or that I’m not good at it (for a human). But just the other day, as I pedaled along, I was passed by a motorcycle.

Its speed was incredible! I appeared to be pedaling in place as the machine zoomed into the distance. In that moment, it became all too clear that my days as a meaningful human were ending. The machine was my better.

Okay. That is not true. I am not going to quit cycling. And, being passed by a motorcycle—a machine we built purposely to go faster than anything our two legs can achieve—is not a meaningful measure of my prowess as a cyclist.

Many people must agree with me. The Tour de France (est. (1903) did not start until decades after the first motorcycles (winner Maurice Garin pictured above center).

Sadly, though, Lee Se-dol—who lost to the DeepMind’s AlphaGo a couple of years ago—has abandoned professional Go because a machine now exists that, he believes, no human can beat.

His unfortunate choice is what results when we fail to remember that the “smartest,” most capable, fastest AI is nothing more than a tool created by humans. AI in all its forms does not supersede us. Rather, it embodies us by amplifying our abilities, as all tools do.

DeepMind did not build AlphaGo by wiring random circuits together, plugging them in, and then standing back to see what might emerge. AlphaGo is a meticulously programmed computer built on years of careful research and hard work by many PhD-level computer scientists. AlphaGo’s success against Se-dol is a credit to those scientists; not to the hardware or software itself.

The hype surrounding AI—ranging from fears of The Terminator to the hope of a human-machine singularity—is a religious belief in all but name, rooted in a disrespect for humans and a wild-eyed belief in our tools and toys.

AI can be—and has been and will be—used in ways that harm humans. But then so can any tool we create. We must stop worrying about being superseded and start putting in place structures—such as performance-qualification tests, regulation (as needed), and laws—to guide what humans do with these tools.

Whatever we do, we should not diminish ourselves and exalt our tools. Se-dol should keep playing Go. I know I’m going to keeping cycling.


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Brendan Dixon

Fellow, Walter Bradley Center for Natural & Artificial Intelligence
Brendan Dixon is a Software Architect with experience designing, creating, and managing projects of all sizes. His first foray into Artificial Intelligence was in the 1980s when he built an Expert System to assist in the diagnosis of software problems at IBM. Since then, he’s worked both as a Principal Engineer and Development Manager for industry leaders, such as Microsoft and Amazon, and numerous start-ups. While he spent most of that time other types of software, he’s remained engaged and interested in Artificial Intelligence.

I Am Giving Up Cycling