Elon Musk has called artificial intelligence a potential existential threat to civilization, according to meida reports, such as this story on NPR by Camila Domonoske Stephen Hawking has made similar warnings, as has Google’s Eric Schmidt.
This gets beyond the job losses to technology and automation, and the hollowing out of the middle class (for which Trump’s “MAGA” seems like a band-aid). AI entities could, in this view, develop real self-awareness and malevolent intentions, just like in the movies.
We can run through a list of films from the past that have exploited this idea. The classic is MGM’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968) where HAL proxies for IBM. Or “Guardians of the Galaxy” recently. Or the droid character on the forlorn spaceship in “Alien” (1979). Or try A24’s “Ex Machina” (2014). Or Spielberg’s outright “A.I.” (2001). A tempting theme is that a hero of a film doesn’t know he is really a robot. I like the idea of not knowing you are an alien or even an angel better.
Playing chess at a grandmaster level does not signify consciousness. At a certain point, even for human players, endgames become precise mathematical calculations. Conversely, Magnus Carlsen, with other egos as a male model and fitness person, is fully human, whatever his blindfold simultaneous capabilities. Maybe his endgame skills could help MLB baseball teams psychologically with their “closers” (relief pitchers, especially the Washington Nationals).
We still don’t know what creates self-awareness and free will. We think that it has something to do with microtubules in the brain. But how does that explain, for example, distributed consciousness in some animals, ranging from social insects even to dolphins? There is some reason to think that there is a connection between distributed consciousness and what we call “soul” or that which survives in an afterlife. Indeed, consciousness is more than the sum of its parts, even when we look at our own individual cells.
Another possibility that invokes the AI scare is nanotechnology. Jack Andraka (“Breakthrough” book), inventor of the new pancreatic cancer test, wants people to carry circulating nanobots in their bloodstreams (like “Jake 2.0”, the UPN series 14 years ago) to find and zap cancer cells. Would nanobots develop a collective mind of their own?
So, two decades from now, could “AI deniers” become a political issue just like the “climate change deniers” of today?
There’s one more biggie to think about. If man starts planning to colonize the Moon or Mars (or maybe the atmosphere of Venus with a floating platform at 30 miles elevation) and set up a micronation, we’ll have to ponder how we select the people who go, beyond mere medical fitness. Should they be people who do not intend to have children? If we ever had to evacuate Earth with a rama-like spaceship, how would we choose the people who could go and live several geneations on a spacecraft to reach another solar system (maybe the earth-like exoplanet around Proxima B)?
(Posted: Tuesday, July 18, 2017 at 1:30 PM EDT)