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On 06, Mar 2016 | In | By erikgerman

The Terminator and the Washing Machine: Unpacking the artificial intelligence panic

For The New York Times / Retro Report

The first time the word “robot” ever appeared in literature in the 1920s, the fictional machines rose up and killed their creators. We’ve been telling the same story ever since. From Hal 9000 to the Terminator, it often seems the measure of a machine’s intelligence is best taken by its wish to do us harm.

It’s a scary vision for some observers, and not just technophobes: Scientists like Stephen Hawking; legacy technologists like Bill Gates; not to mention cutting-edge techies like Elon Musk, have all announced their worries about runaway A.I. killing off the human race.

Remarks like that tend to echo in the press. But how worried should we really be? This web documentary for The New York Times’ Retro Report series offers some answers by talking to scientists working to solve some of A.I.’s toughest problems. And it also does so by taking a closer look at the legendary—and widely misunderstood – match between a supercomputer and chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov in 1997.

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