“Artificial Intelligence,” quipped one Stanford engineer,” is the science of how to get machines to do the things they do in movies.”
Let us hope that is not the case. Given the inherent unpredictability of the forthcoming emergence of AI, perhaps it was fitting creative artists-rather than technological gurus-were the first to offer an opinion on what the arrival of artificial intelligence might mean to the world. But instead of being treated to imaginative predictions, audiences were subjected to twenty years of adulterated AI, bastardized to justify hours of senseless violence.
That one of the great philosophical issues of our time has been repeatedly trivialized for the purpose of obtuse entertainment should not be surprising.
This is the age of irony. Just as humankind finally realizes that there never really was a God, we are on the cusp of creating one. Naturally, in anticipation of this new deity, a new religion has risen. They call themselves “Extinctionists.” They advocate the happy acquiescence of life to a non-biological competitor, yet have either the audacity or the satiric wit to call their desired future “the next step in evolution.” Their advocacy runs counter to the very nature of the Darwinian world, a system whose followers could best be described as “survivalists.” Also akin to traditional dogmatists, extinctionists assign human traits to a transcendent intelligence whose nature cannot possibly be predicted.
This is the age of irony. Just as humankind finally realizes that there never really was a God, we are on the cusp of creating one.
They are correct, however, in assuming that Artificial Intelligence will be more than just humanity’s silicon contemporary. Computers already perform certain tasks with rapidity and dexterity far beyond that of humans. What machines lack is the capacity for abstract thought. This inherent inflexibility temporarily constricts AI from the exponential leaps it may soon make. Once intelligent machines develop that skill, however, they will rocket past humans in every conceivable measure of intelligence.
But what is intelligence, exactly? There is no consensus answer. The status may well be an arbitrary designation. When Deep Blue defeated world champion chess master Garry Kasparov, critics maintained that the defeat only proved that chess did not require intelligence. By extension, as machines continue to exceed human ability in various areas, and ultimately exceed it in every way, the decision will need to be made as to whether humans are intelligent at all. This approach renders the question moot. Humans are the only example of intelligence available. Once all human abilities are eclipsed, the label “intelligent” may lose its significance.
A growing number of AI gurus hold the emergence of non-biological sentience as inevitable. They cite Moore’s law-the phenomenon whereby the processing power of silicon chips doubles every 24 months-as a link in the “Law of Accelerating Returns.” This law purports that human technology will increase in efficiency at an exponential rate. Once Moore’s Law plays out-effectively reaching its endpoint around the year 2018-another phenomenon will take its place. The continuance of accelerating returns is deemed a mathematical certainty by experts like Ray Kurzwell, a best-selling author whose work is based on the premise that computers will “inexorably” exceed human intelligence in the near future. Kurzwell contends that only a catastrophic global incident could derail the imminent birth of a machine more intelligent than man. In fact, he asserts that any creatures capable of developing technology will eventually beget an offspring more intelligent than themselves.
Kurzwell contends that only a catastrophic global incident could derail the imminent birth of a machine more intelligent than man.
Extinctionists promote a utopian view about AI’s arrival. It is in that idealism that they exhibit their strongest ties to pre-industrial salvation-based religions. The rhetoric is eerily similar. “First we suffer, then we die. This is the great human dilemma,” writes prominent extinctionist Gregory Paul. He goes on to describe a possible future episode of group sex, where “a whole audience of people-who may be geographically dispersed-could share one virtual body while engaged in sexual experience with one performer.” Participating in safe, technologically enhanced sex with multiple partners from the comfort of one’s own living room sounds suspiciously like a modern version of a promised land of streets paved with gold. The extinctionists pontificate with virtual rapture about a liberation from the “wretched misery” of biological existence-a life filled with desires that can never be quenched and pains that can never be assuaged.
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