Why is it that when we think of sentient machines we still imagine Elektro the Smoking Robot? Admit it, you do.
For thousands of years, humans have created objects in their own image. We force fit things that we do not understand into our little box of human understanding in order to make it easier for us to explain. In the case of artificial intelligence, it is to alleviate our general discomfort with the idea of a “thinking machine.”
We want our “intelligent machines” to act and look like a human and would prefer to think of them as subservient like Rosie from the Jetson’s. You’re trying to figure out how to make a little French maid costume for your Roomba right now aren’t you?
But the innate knowledge we have of our own cognitive deficiencies causes us to imagine that the kindly Elektro may become smarter than its creators, realize just how basically dumb mankind is, and decide to take over the world…possibly by killing everyone on planet earth through a devious and ingenious plot to give us all lung cancer from second-hand smoke.
Humans are typically motivated by a few basic things; greed, guilt and the most common and dangerous, the “F” word. Get your mind out of the gutter, I’m talking about fear. We fear what we don’t understand and we respond in irrational ways. The human mind when in “F-mode” is capable of imagining bizarre and unrealistic things. Fear triggers resentment, bitterness, anger and hatred in our thoughts and actions. This results in behaviors as extreme as starting wars, imprisoning and even killing entire races of people, or being certain that the takeover of the world by sentient machines is imminent.
The F-mode mentality that is currently being fueled by the media and some of the luminaries of science and technology over Artificial Intelligence running amok has even instigated a global discussion over the rights, regulation and control of robots.
But I think we are missing something big…really big. Artificial Intelligence is little more than mimicking human reasoning and response through some pre-defined set of criteria or information that is biased towards the thought and decision making processes of carbon-based life forms.
AI is cleverly designed software, albeit increasingly sophisticated, that imitates the human thought and decision making process and is created and controlled by man, most oftentimes for the purpose of financial or political gain. As they say, information is power and we have willingly given our information and actively participated in the population of massive databases that have given power and control to humans and machines that are using it to make decisions that will benefit them financially or politically.
The biggest risk to humanity from “AI” is our complacency towards the collection and use of every minute detail of our lives and the people and machines collecting and controlling the information. That is not to say that every entity that collects information has some devious plan to take over the world but as history has repeatedly shown, it only takes one. If any safeguards need to be put in place then let it be those that will regulate and control the collection and use of information by powerful systems that imitate human thought and are equally fallible and susceptible to human bias and inaccuracies when making decisions.
But I digress, the real point I want to make is that there is something beyond, and distinctly different from the pseudo-science of Artificial Intelligence, and it seems that it is being largely overlooked by those that are warning us about the dangers of AI.
We are such a simple and naïve species, and massively egotistical, in that we define “intelligence” based upon our limited understanding of our own (or lack thereof). We are unwilling to accept or incapable of understanding that there may be other forms and definitions of intelligence.
There is a world where self-organizing digital organisms operate autonomously and are self-replicating at a pace that dwarfs human reproduction. I imagine that if someone were able to observe humans in the physical world and the entities in the digital world from the outside, it would be difficult to distinguish much difference, aside from the speed at which the digital world operates. This is a world that we didn’t design and cannot currently explain.
Our world is blanketed with signals that we are incapable of perceiving. We are able to perceive certain frequencies of light, sound and heat waves but the majority are outside our human capability to discern. Yet we accept, for the most part, that they are there. As we sit and have our coffee in the morning, we are completely oblivious to the fact that thousands of signals are racing around us. We are conscious of the signals that provide us the news we are watching and the wired and wireless mechanisms that we use to connect to the web, but there are many we are not aware of, what they are doing and whether they were initiated by man or self-created in a world we are not able to perceive.
The greatest minds could not really explain what goes on in the digital world. It is vastly more complex than anything we have ever encountered and are capable of understanding. Yes, they could provide an eloquent description of the hardware, software and communication mechanisms necessary for us to receive the basic services we rely upon, and take for granted, but there are many more things that defy human logic and reasoning.
So why is it so unimaginable that an intelligence, completely different than our own, is operating at a level beyond that which we are currently capable of perceiving or understanding? The tools that we develop are designed to better understand (and manage) things that we know exist, but we need new tools to identify things that we are not aware of, very similar to our learning about physics. This is a new field of physics which has yet to be explored and that is very exciting.
In the end, we do have something to fear but it is not the takeover of the world by sentient machines, it is our own human ignorance and arrogance. After all, every piece of information, all of the physical world’s knowledge, personal details, thoughts, ideas, opinions and biases, are already digitized. We have nothing to teach our digital counterparts and the warning should be for mankind to wake up, pay attention and attempt to learn about intelligent digital organisms that are anything but artificial.
That should provide a lot to think about so take the cigarettes away from your Roomba, put down your sewing kit, and stop trying to make it look like Rosie. She’s probably laughing at you and thinking “what a simple and quaint species humans are.”