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AI starting to have big real-world impact, says expert

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‘Yeah, we’re spooked’: AI starting to have big real-world impact, says expert

A scientist who wrote a leading textbook on artificial intelligence has said experts are “spooked” by their own success in the field, comparing the advance of AI to the development of the atom bomb.

Prof Stuart Russell, the founder of the Center for Human-Compatible Artificial Intelligence at the University of California, Berkeley, said most experts believed that machines more intelligent than humans would be developed this century, and he called for international treaties to regulate the development of the technology.

“The AI community has not yet adjusted to the fact that we are now starting to have a really big impact in the real world,” he told the Guardian. “That simply wasn’t the case for most of the history of the field – we were just in the lab, developing things, trying to get stuff to work, mostly failing to get stuff to work. So the question of real-world impact was just not germane at all. And we have to grow up very quickly to catch up.”

Artificial intelligence underpins many aspects of modern life, from search engines to banking, and advances in image recognition and machine translation are among the key developments in recent years.

Russell – who in 1995 co-authored the seminal book Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach, and who will be giving this year’s BBC Reith lectures entitled “Living with Artificial Intelligence”, which begin on Monday – says urgent work is needed to make sure humans remain in control as superintelligent AI is developed.

“AI has been designed with one particular methodology and sort of general approach. And we’re not careful enough to use that kind of system in complicated real-world settings,” he said.

For example, asking AI to cure cancer as quickly as possible could be dangerous. “It would probably find ways of inducing tumours in the whole human population, so that it could run millions of experiments in parallel, using all of us as guinea pigs,” said Russell. “And that’s because that’s the solution to the objective we gave it; we just forgot to specify that you can’t use humans as guinea pigs and you can’t use up the whole GDP of the world to run your experiments and you can’t do this and you can’t do that.”

Russell said there was still a big gap between the AI of today and that depicted in films such as Ex Machina, but a future with machines that are more intelligent than humans was on the cards.

“I think numbers range from 10 years for the most optimistic to a few hundred years,” said Russell. “But almost all AI researchers would say it’s going to happen in this century.”

One concern is that a machine would not need to be more intelligent than humans in all things to pose a serious risk. “It’s something that’s unfolding now,” he said. “If you look at social media and the algorithms that choose what people read and watch, they have a huge amount of control over our cognitive input.”

The upshot, he said, is that the algorithms manipulate the user, brainwashing them so that their behaviour becomes more predictable when it comes to what they chose to engage with, boosting click-based revenue.

Have AI researchers become spooked by their own success? “Yeah, I think we are increasingly spooked,” Russell said.

“It reminds me a little bit of what happened in physics where the physicists knew that atomic energy existed, they could measure the masses of different atoms, and they could figure out how much energy could be released if you could do the conversion between different types of atoms,” he said, noting that the experts always stressed the idea was theoretical. “And then it happened and they weren’t ready for it.”

The use of AI in military applications – such as small anti-personnel weapons – is of particular concern, he said. “Those are the ones that are very easily scalable, meaning you could put a million of them in a single truck and you could open the back and off they go and wipe out a whole city,” said Russell.

Russell believes the future for AI lies in developing machines that know the true objective is uncertain, as are our preferences, meaning they must check in with humans – rather like a butler – on any decision. But the idea is complex, not least because different people have different – and sometimes conflicting – preferences, and those preferences are not fixed.

Russell called for measures including a code of conduct for researchers, legislation and treaties to ensure the safety of AI systems in use, and training of researchers to ensure AI is not susceptible to problems such as racial bias. He said EU legislation that would ban impersonation of humans by machines should be adopted around the world.

Russell said he hoped the Reith lectures would emphasise that there is a choice about what the future holds. “It’s really important for the public to be involved in those choices, because it’s the public who will benefit or not,” he said.

But there was another message, too. “Progress in AI is something that will take a while to happen, but it doesn’t make it science fiction,” he said.

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EFCC Arrests Fake State House Staff for N22m Employment Scam

Operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes commission, EFCC, have arrested a syndicate of fake State House Staff in Abuja for alleged criminal conspiracy, false representation and employment scam.

The suspects were arrested separately following investigation on petitions by various victims who were promised jobs as “Directors General” at the Ministry of Communication, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Limited, NNPCL, Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC and other ministries.

The suspects are; Augustine Enamegbai Umogboi, who claimed to be a former staff of the State House, Eleojo Josephine Idakwo, a fake staff of the Ministry of Information in the Registry Unit, and Kingsley Onuh who also claimed that he just concluded his National Youth Service Corps, NYSC.

Others are Omata Sunday and Eljayon Nigeria Limited, one of the companies which bank account they were using to get money from their victims. Besides, they had different account numbers of different banks through which they were receiving the money amounting to N22,350,00 (Twenty Two million, Three Hundred and Fifty Thousand Naira) from different victims.

Umogboi was arrested on June 16, 2024, Idakwo was arrested on April 30, 2024, while Onuh was arrested on April 3, 2024.

Many victims narrated their bitter experience in a series of petitions written to the EFCC.

A sample of such a petition reads : “we were reliably informed that sometime around April 2023, Mr. Gabriel Kingsley Onuh notified our clients about job opportunities in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation LTD(NNPCL) and Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC). With support of Eleojo Josephine Idakwo who claimed to work in NNPCL, they undertook to assist Mr. Toheeb Adesina and Miss Asabe Gambo to secure employment in NNPCL, as well as Mr. Tertindi Reginald Igbayue in FRSC, subject to the payment of a fee. It was agreed that the payment would be in two tranches-initials part payment and the balance payment when the employment letter is ready and when documentation of credentials commences”.

Another victim in a petition written to the EFCC stated that “Sometime in May 2023, one of my friends, Sunday Omata approached me that one Eleojo Josephine Idakwu told him that their office in the Presidential Villa is responsible for screening applicants for the appointment of ‘Directors General’ for all Ministries and Parastatals in the current government of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

“As such they want me to apply for the position of Director General in the Ministry of Communication… She however gave me a condition that I must pay them Five Million Naira (N5,000,000) before they can start the process.

“Since it involves a big office, they cannot do all the contacts for free and their boss in the office requires some money too. Since then, they have been requesting all sorts of money from me with various accounts”.

They suspects have given useful information to the EFCC and will be charged to court upon conclusion of investigation.

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Ondo Govt reacts to court judgement declaring new LCDAs ‘illegal’

The Ondo State Government says necessary legal action will be taken on the judgement nullifying the creation of the 33 Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs) in the state.

The government’s reaction is contained in a statement by the Attorney General of Ondo State, Mr Kayode Ajulo SAN, made available to  newsmen on Friday in Akure.

Justice A.O Adebusuoye of the state High Court had in a judgement on Thursday described the creation of the LCDAs as unlawful.

The court said it was illegal for a governor to sign a law outside the State.

The court said that the Local Government Creation Law 2023 signed by the late Governor Rotimi Akeredolu in Ibadan was unconstitutional, illegal, null and void.

The statement said the government has taken cognizance of Ondo State High Court’s judgement and had requested for a Certified True Copy of it.

Ajulo said after it was studied and analysed, a legal opinion would be presented to the state government.

“Subsequently, all necessary measures, in accordance with our laws, will be taken to safeguard the interests of our citizens, foster peaceful coexistence, and uphold the rule of law.

“The Attorney General remains steadfast in his commitment to prioritizing the well-being and welfare of our citizens, working tirelessly to ensure that justice and the law are served,” the statement said.

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LASTMA impounds 40 vehicles in Oyingbo, ijora, idumota axis

The  Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) has impounded another 25 commercial and 15 private vehicles operating illegal garages and causing serious road obstructions around Oyingbo, Ijora, and Idumota areas of  Lagos.

Mr Taofiq Adebayo, Director, Public Affairs and Enlightenment Department of LASTMA, said this in a statement on Friday in Lagos.

Adebayo said impounding the vehicles at these areas was a decisive move by LASTMA to restore order and ensure the free flow of traffic.

He said the operation was led by LASTMA Head of Enforcement, Mr Kayode Odunuga, under the directives of the Special Adviser to the Governor on Transportation, Mr Sola Giwa.

Adebayo that they were specifically directed to target illegal garages that had been a persistent source of congestion and inconvenience for residents and commuters.

He said the impoundment, which began in recent weeks, was part of a broader initiative by the  Lagos State Government to enhance the efficiency of the city’s transportation network.

He quoted Giwa as emphasising that government is committed to maintaining law and order on the roads, ensuring that all traffic regulations are strictly enforced.

“illegal garages have been a significant challenge in our quest to maintain a seamless traffic flow in Lagos.

“These impoundments send a strong message to all offenders that the state will not tolerate activities that disrupt public order and endanger the lives of our citizens.

“Our goal is to create a safe and orderly environment for all road users and this action is a crucial step in that direction,” Giwa said.

He noted that the targeted areas, Oyingbo, Ijora, and Idumota, are known hotspots for traffic congestion due to unauthorised parking and the establishment of makeshift garages.

He said that these activities not only obstruct the free movement of vehicles but also pose safety risks to pedestrians.

“LASTMA’s intervention aims to clear these bottlenecks and enhance the overall traffic situation in these critical areas.

“Residents and business owners have expressed their support for the government’s action, noting the positive impact it will have on their daily activities.

“LASTMA has also assured the public that the operation will be sustained and extended to other parts of the city where illegal garages and related activities are prevalent,” he quoted Giwa as saying.

He urged all vehicle owners and operators to adhere to the state’s traffic regulations and cooperate with authorities to avoid sanctions.

He reiterated that the government’s primary objective was to create a better and more livable Lagos for everyone.

He also urged motorists to take ownership of the roads and to promptly inform LASTMA of any broken down or abandoned trailers or trucks via the Agency’s hotlines: 0810056586008129928503.

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