A couple of days ago Life on the Edge was challenged. The Golden Utopia of THE FUTURE may never happen, we were informed. Economics might not work like that.
Having rationalised our way out of that one, (phew, close call) it must be back luck that this then happens: It has been persuasively suggested that our Utopia might actually be a tad oppressive. Not to mention downright scary. Utterly hostile to human existence, in fact.
Writing in Newsweek’s first digital-only magazine Tom Wolfe (author of The Bonfire of the Vanities) pens this disturbing description of visiting a data centre:
“…any human being who entered was engulfed, oppressed, unnerved, spooked out by an overwhelming droning sound and an X-ray-blue fluorescent light that made your skin look posthumous. The droning seemed to create a pressure upon your skull. Sometimes the drone would rise slightly, then lower…and rise…and lower. It made you think this enormous robo-monster was breathing… If you were knowledgeable enough even to be allowed to enter one of these huge server rooms, you knew that most of the droning came from air-conditioning units high as a wall… that ran constantly to keep this concentration of machines from auto-melting because of their own ungodly heat.
“You could know all that, but the robo-monster would ride your head so hard, you would turn anthropomorphic in spite of your superior brain…The robo-monster—it’s breathing…it’s starting to move…it’s got me by the head…it’s thinking with its CPU (Central Processing Unit) mind, thinking in algorithms, sequences of programmed decisions along the lines of “If A261, then G1432, and therefore B5556 or QQ42—” spotting discrepancies, making buy-sell decisions, even deceptive looks-like-a-buy feints to trick competing robo-brains into making foolish calculations. The monster’s human… No, he’s not human…No human brain could possibly think or act as fast, as accurately, as cunningly as a robo-brain.”
Is this what man-machine collaboration is to be like? Are we to be comprehensively bested by the technology?
If you believe, as we do, that Artificial Intelligence will – in the not-too-distant-future – be of a higher order than that of the human brain, then this is a worrying piece of prose.
Forget the Terminator / Matrix scenarios. Perhaps our physical oppression is irrelevant. Are we to be made irrelevant by the machines’ superior abilities? Is this how we become their pets?
Of course, the superior intelligence is likely to cloak itself in a manner friendly to humans. But underneath the veneer – that we will know to be false – how will we feel? Knowing we are second-class citizens?
Alienated and inadequate are two words that come to mind.
So, a note – nay a plea – to future generations. When devising AI please ensure there is a direct interface into the human brain. Use AI to enhance our own consciousness. Provide an API so that we can merge and thereby experience what and how the machines think.
Or else develop the technology so that we dispense with our meat form, download our conscious selves and merge with the AIs.
For we have decided we don’t want to live in a world where machines are more intelligent than us. And where we can’t participate. We just can’t stand the inadequacy.
Of course, such thoughts cannot direct technology. The developments will evolve in the direction of their own logic. Our collective cannot make it otherwise?
Well, perhaps there is reason for optimism. Perhaps we can feel sure that we won’t be second class.
There’s going to be massive demand from humans who wish be absorbed into the AI. Not to be left behind. To think and feel as they do. To be artificially intelligent, operating at the same level. On equal terms. With our own – far extended – wetware as a base.
And if this is indeed a human desire then, once AI arrives, perhaps there will be sufficient forward motion for the next generation of technology to allow humans to cross the divide.
Some will presumably choose not to. But, we suspect, the delicate egos of many will mean they will choose to leave the pure human behind. And become one with AI.
Which we think is a truly mind-blowing idea.
See? Like in any other belief system, ours allows all simple crises of confidence to be rationalised away as well.
So we re-state the position:
The rate of change is increasing. Exponentially. And – on the whole – it’s good.