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This is why your fears about artificial intelligence are wrong

Elon Musk and James Cameron both missed the mark, the co-founders of Numenta say.

Vjeran Pavic for Recode

Artificial intelligence will take over the world! Or so we’re told by the movies. We’re all doomed to become "house cats" if the machines so desire! Or so prominent experts like Elon Musk have warned.

Humbug, say Jeff Hawkins and Donna Dubinsky. On the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, the co-founders of Numenta (who previously co-founded Palm and Handspring) predicted AI will indeed drive technological advances for the rest of the century ... but they threw water on the idea that intelligent machines would behave as they do in popular fiction.

"There’s very smart people, whether it’s Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates or Stephen Hawking, who have said, ‘Oh my gosh, this is really dangerous,’" Hawkins said. "You imagine these things becoming crazy and alive and taking over the world. It is so far from that, it is crazy. The current technology is not even on a road to true intelligence. It’s just not going to happen."

Dubinsky explained that a lot of what we call machine learning today isn’t learning in the traditional sense. Computers are being taught to recognize, for instance, pictures of cats by being shown millions of pictures that have already been labeled "cat."

However, Numenta claims that it is trying to develop artificial intelligence that thinks the way a human does ... to a point.

"This is a generalized approach," Dubinsky said. "It’s about a learning machine. Your child is born and its brain doesn’t have stuff in it. It learns from what it’s exposed to."

Hawkins stressed that Numenta is specifically trying to reverse engineer only part of the human brain: The neocortex, which is what lets us learn and create a model of the world based on our environments and experiences. The company is officially uninterested in engineering the 25 percent of the brain that controls emotions like anger.

"We didn't evolve to do mathematics, but our brains can do it," he said. "Imagine you could build a brain that’s a million times faster than a human, never gets tired, and it’s tuned to be a mathematician. We could advance mathematical theories extremely rapidly."

"This machine doesn’t want to eat, it doesn’t want to have sex, it’s not jealous that you got the tuna sandwich," Hawkins added. "That’s the kind of thing we can look forward to: Machines that are brilliant and smart."

On the new podcast, Dubinsky and Hawkins also discussed their history as entrepreneurial partners dating back to the early 1990s, the biggest challenges currently facing machine intelligence and why you shouldn’t listen to tech pundits who won’t shut up about mobile.

"I find it very amusing when people now say, ‘The future is mobile!’" Dubinsky said. "No, no, no. Seeing that the future was mobile 20 years before it happened is the hard part. Seeing that the future is mobile once you’re in the midst of it, that’s not the future any more."

You can listen to Recode Decode in the audio player above, or subscribe on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn and Stitcher.

If you like this show, you should also sample our other podcasts:

  • Recode Media with Peter Kafka features no-nonsense conversations with the smartest and most interesting people in the media world, with new episodes every Thursday. Use these links to subscribe on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn and Stitcher.
  • Too Embarrassed to Ask, hosted by Kara Swisher and The Verge's Lauren Goode, answers the tech questions sent in by our readers and listeners. You can hear new episodes every Friday on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn and Stitcher.
  • And Recode Replay has all the audio from our live events, including the Code Conference, Code Media and the Code Commerce Series. We've posted audio of every single interview at the 2016 Code Conference, so subscribe today on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn and Stitcher.

If you like what we’re doing, please write a review on iTunes — and if you don’t, just tweet-strafe Kara. Tune in next Monday for another episode of Recode Decode!

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