We need not fear the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and the doomsday iRobot scenario, according Microsoft's head of research.
Steven Hawking caused controversy last year with his dire warnings that intelligent machines pose a threat to the very existence of humanity. In December, he told the BBC "the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race".
Tech entrepreneur Elon Musk also expressed his deep scepticism about the wisdom of embracing AI. In October last year he said:
With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon. In all those stories where there's the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it's like yeah he's sure he can control the demon. Didn't work out.
Eric Horvitz, Microsoft's chief of research is much more bullish on the potential of the AI. Responding to fears that humans could lose control over their creations Horvitz said "I fundamentally don't think that's going to happen".
Instead, humans are set to be the recipients of a host of benefits in the fields of medicine, science and education, according to Horvitz. At Microsoft, he heads up a team 1,000 strong that spends a quarter of its resources on projects related to AI.
Horwitz made the remarks after winning the AAAI Feigenbaum Prize for his work in AI research.
Horwitz believes AI next major arena for competition between the world's major tech firms. "The next, if not last enduring competitive battlefield among major IT companies will be artificial intelligence", said Horwitz.
He added examples to illustrate the increasingly competitive nature of the AI sector:
We have Cortana and Siri and Google Now setting up a competitive tournament for where's the best intelligent assistant going to come from... and that kind of competition is going to heat up the research and investment, and bring it more into the spotlight.
While Horwitz doesn't buy into the apocalyptic vision of AI that Messrs Musk and Hawking do, he does acknowledge fears over privacy. But he goes onto to argue that mechanisms can be put in place to allay such fears:
I believe that machine learning, reasoning and AI more generally will be central in providing great tools for ensuring the privacy.