Widening AI is about The Internet of Things. Self-driving cars. And APIs becoming child’s play. They all point to machines chatting away to each other in ever increasing numbers. Exchanging data and making decisions. Being able to make more complex judgements when faced with a wider set of possible outcomes. In other words, their collective ‘thoughts’ will become ever-more influential. As will our confidence in allowing them to act without our intervention.
At a certain point it becomes sensible to talk about this as Wide Artificial Intelligence (W-AI). At first it will take a combination of machines to make a truly intelligent decision. Although arguably self-driving cars already do that within a single system. And in time the machines will discover new lines of enquiry. Thereby becoming creative, in a sense. Rather than merely computational inside pre-ordained parameters. We won’t be capable of predicting what they’ll come up with.
On Tuesday morning we were chatting to Contagious Magazine’s co-founder, Gee Thomson, about how these computers will experience the world as AI widens. Consciousness, as humans understand it, is no pre-requisite within W-AI. And their natural language will not be ours. Even when they learn to translate their reality into our modes of communication, the basic reality they experience – their senses and processing – will remain alien to us. Unobtainable. Let’s frame it as Machine Reality v Human Reality.
The discussion on this distinction and difference was triggered by a post from Will Knight, online editor at MIT Technology Review. He was taking issue with Ray Kurzweil’s view of what it takes to make a mind. In simplified terms Kurzweil believes that it’s possible to recreate an approximation of human intelligence by building a model of a brain, based on his current understanding of it. Then exposing it to massive amounts of data so it learns.
And, it seems, he’s having a bash at this over at Google. Which is exciting.
But, as Knight points out:
…constructing meaning from language goes well beyond learning vocabulary and grammar, often relying on a lifetime of experience with the world. This is why Siri is only capable of responding to a fairly narrow set of questions or commands, even if Apple’s designers have done a clever job of making Siri seem as if it’s understanding goes much deeper.
This is another way of saying that Machine and Human Realities are fundamentally different things. Perhaps Kurzweil’s building something entirely useful. But it’s unlikely to understand us in a meaningful way. No doubt it’ll deliver better, more timely information. It’ll be a great interface into Machine Reality. And it’ll augment our own. But we doubt it’ll approximate the human brain. So it’s unlikely to be qualitatively different from other advances in W-AI. The key distinction will remain.
That very afternoon Nicholas Carr developed this theme, by describing the common existence of Machine and Human Realities as ‘Mixed Reality’. That captures the essence of the situation perfectly – we’ll be perceiving and processing the same events. But from very different standpoints.
However, Carr winds up by arguing that Machine Reality will win the battle. That Human Reality will be subsumed into it. They’ll impose their reality on us. Because its more efficient. And safer. And, in most ways, better.
But we’re not sure the logic is logical.
Surely one cannot triumph over the other? Unless the other is annihilated.
Because we are inherently incapable of experiencing Machine Reality. They will be networked. Have an array of sensors far beyond our senses. Capable of ‘thinking’ about more than one thing in a single moment. And in the next moment combining those things into a single construct.
We are not. And to the extent this becomes possible, it’ll be via add-on processing capabilities. Which will be machine-augmentations. Which is Us. Not Them. And if the human parts of our brain become irrelevant then we will – effectively – have been annihilated.
So while we continue to exist, a Mixed Reality state will persist. By definition.
Kurzweil’s current attempt to build a human brain in machine form is unlikely to succeed. But in time They will be able to communicate with Us in our native languages. And, if they so choose, we will not be able to perceive their lack of native humanity. But They will also be so much more than Us. Consciousness will have reached a higher plane. And we’ll have augmented ourselves to live beyond our original constraints.
So perhaps Mr Carr is right. Machine Reality will triumph. It is the next stage of evolution.
But if so, then humanity itself will have ceased to exist.