Will Someone PLEASE Exorcise Skynet?!
Artificial Intelligence. Popular bogey man of fiction on both page and screen for decades. Asked to personify or embody AI, your average person will evoke trite silicon, fibre optic monsters such as Terminator's Skynet, I-Robot's V.I.K.I., and The Matrix's The Architect. All pervading, chastening and Draconian brain children of humanity, once a pinnacle of achievement evolving into a nadir of freedom... a good allegory for religion (but that's for another time).
AI casts a murky ghost over our future. The notion of a machine, a tool so fastidiously serving us, could think for itself and perhaps rewire it's circuitry and destiny. We may also craft ourselves a rival at the apex of earth's pyramid.
Elon Musk, South African entrepreneur, the profligate innovator fueling such developments as Space X and Tesla Motors, recently gave an interview to students at MIT - an institute that has spearheaded many a Eureka! moment, as the world's most prestigious technical college - during the AeroAstro Centennial Symposium. His words were laced with the common warnings we humans fear, being belittled in a world we believe has been subjugated by our anthropological autocracy.
“I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I had to guess at what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that. So we need to be very careful,” said Musk. “I’m increasingly inclined to think that there should be some regulatory oversight, maybe at the national and international level, just to make sure that we don’t do something very foolish.”
“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. Doesn’t work out,” said Musk.
His words are powerful, and cut a vein deep, exposing a ream of apprehension that is implied about political power, money, religion and how what is deemed as an outside agent is a fearful harbinger of modes of oppression that have been common in our species for aeons.
The pungent musk of an "existential threat" to our humanity (supremacy) is palpable and it's arguably not the first time this has happened on earth. One could argue that we have outrun the terrestrial playground we grew up in, pushing it so the delicate poise of the elements that created us are becoming unbalanced. A similar rhythm is beat out on the tools we use.
Computing was originally a calculation term, the data has extrapolated from that point to where it has become a companion, a pet almost. Domesticated from it's inception, computer data has known no emancipation, it exists in a binary of service and program execution. So logically humans will have to follow the same function? Will the Genesis of AI change any of that?
Since the dawn of civilisation, we have ambled forwards towards growth and enlightenment under the auspices of many forms of control, shaping our destiny and thought. Beginning in Mesopotamia, Gods and Kings became a fit that covered nations, empires and their people like a suit of itching fabric, it served it's purpose but wasn't necessarily comfortable. Religion hampered progress on the Naked Ape like ill fitting shoes, staggering and limping under pain and misery. Then last of all, comes money! Sick and green, with a panoply of lurid colours in between and the images of noble statesmen or great figures slathered over them. Reminders that all were dependent on these slices of paper almost as much as air and water. True freedom fails to compute with our DNA as a pack animal. So why does the dystopia of a computer with a brain go down like the Hindenburg through a black hole?
Lead By Example.
The search for life that can think like our own has been a yearning for inquisitive minds just this side of forever. From a glance at the stars to the moulding of chips from sand. We emerged from the oceans in some forgotten epoch, AI will erupt from the silicon originating from the shore that moulds so readily to our footprints. Artificial Intelligence would still require programming, the ability to think and adapt as a natural consequence may intrinsically imbue the fabric of the data itself.
Take the Matrix. AI couldn't completely eradicate freewill. Neo became something of a virus within the system, at the end, shutting it off and rebooting it entirely. The prospect of sharing our zeitgeist with a second sentience is what's daunting. Perhaps it will succeed and fail in ways that we can't fathom? Perhaps the thing that used to serve, the worm that turns, is the greatest fear? But that belies deep-seeded concerns regarding change. But change is inevitable and coupled with our unquenchable desire to create, has the power to alter lives in ways incomprehensible a mere several decades ago.
If choice is an algorithm for AI, then true freedom is a simple constituent of a pattern. But for us as a species that evolved freedom, without it being bestowed upon us by something else, culture has been an enforced pattern. An ironic cognitive dissonance in fiction where AI is painted as an unrelenting Overlord perhaps?
A future is portended where computer and human intelligence merge, known as Epoch 5 or The Singularity. A pet gets a taste of life as the master. This scenario seems increasingly plausible as smartphones and tablets are growing into an extra appendage. We may as well don some Google Glasses and have the smartphone grafted into our brain stem. Sporting shades just like The Terminator...
When abundant, free, clean energy is a possibility during the era when AI evolves, it will prove a less taxing sentience on earth than we have been. Part of the fear is that we make ourselves irrelevant by our achievement. As Christopher Hitchens said about Shakespeare: "if you were to go on Shakespeare by his works, then surely meeting the man would almost certainly be a disappointment." Meaning the lofty, spectacular, numinous litany of the Bard's works, are probably not an indication of his personality at all. The internet is a breath taking and sometimes nauseating blueprint of the human condition, the conduits through which it is relayed to us are well thought out, elegant machines... much like us until we open our mouths, beauty is skin/screen deep. Maybe an offshoot of our constant endeavour of achievement will surpass that?
© Brad James, 2014.
- Elon Musk: artificial intelligence is our biggest existential threat | Technology | theguardian.com
The AI investor says that humanity risks ‘summoning a demon’ and calls for more regulatory oversight. By Samuel Gibbs