When two respected icons and thought leaders, Professor Stephen William Hawking and William Henry “Bill” Gates III start voicing their concerns about Artificial Intelligence or AI then we need to start listening.
We consider ourselves to be intelligent beings, yet we are the ones rating our own level of intelligence. From a purely philosophical perspective everything that we experience and know to be true can only every be known through our own personal experience, everything else is based on a belief. Where that belief comes from and why we believe it to be true is another topic but I often take conform from the following:
The only thing that I know for certain is that I know nothing. I now know something for certain.
This is the beginning of wisdom, because it allows me to acknowledge that what I believe to be true may not be true and only then can I approach everything I experience with an open mind.
Believing the world to be flat used to be true. Believing the earth is the centre of the universe used to be true. Believing we are intelligent beings does not necessarily make us intelligent.
Consider how we perceive our level of intelligence compared to that of a primate. We consider ourselves to be intelligent and they are not, yet there is only about a one percent genetic difference between the human species and our closest primate cousins. We are unable to interact with primates above a certain basic level. We cannot discuss our love of music or poetry with them, yet we are intelligent?
I believe it is therefore arrogant of us as a species to assume that we are “intelligent” beings. Yes we have a capacity to learn and communicate and store collective information and knowledge but what we perceive as intelligence is mostly based on arrogant assumptions of what we believe intelligence to be.
Our overuse of our belief system makes us overly confident and dangerous because what we think we know to be true, we actually only believe it to be true.
The reason I am focusing on what intelligence is is because we are creeping ever closer to creating what we believe to be Artificial Intelligence, yet are we so sure that we are intelligent or are we simply habitual creatures with rudimentary communication skills?
There are two points that I believe to be important in understanding the consequences of Artificial Intelligence.
- The first is how will this “intelligence” react to us?
- The second is how will we react to it?
The first point is unknown because we can only imaging what Artificial Intelligence may be like. So for a minute just open your mind to the possibility that there are other ways of perceiving reality and that we are unaware of them because of our limited senses of touch, taste, sight, sound and smell can’t comprehend them. Image that we then met the next evolution of humans who could experience and interact in dimensions that we can’t perceive. How would they judge our level of intelligence? One thing is almost certain and that is that AI’s perception of reality will be different from our own.
The second point is much easier to image because we have a human history. As a species we generally don’t like things that are different or opposed to our common belief system. Take the motivation of Hitler during the Second World War and the reaction of the British to oppose his ideology because of their belief that his motives and actions were immoral.
During the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s as a species we built enough nuclear weapons to annihilate the entire planet several times over because of our socio-economic differences.
We continue to exploit our planets naturals resources in the name of economic progress.
We have made countless species extinct and brought many others to the brink of extinction.
We continue to fight wars with each other over differing political and religious ideologies because we believe our way is the right way.
And this is what we call an intelligent species?
Image then, that we do create a form of artificial intelligence. What would we make of it? We automatically expect it to bend to our will because we are used to being the dominant species on the planet. Would we be capable to treating this new artificial intelligence as an equal when we are unable to treat members of our own species equally?
This is the danger of creating something based out of a belief and that belief is that we are intelligent.
Throughout history humans have catalogued periods of advancement through ages and revolutions, such as The Iron Age and The Industrial Revolution etc. I would argue that the second half of the twentieth century saw us pass thought the Technological age and I would propose that we are currently transitioning between the Information Age and the Knowledge Revolution.
I would also argue that the vast majority of our species are not able to participate in the Information Age or Knowledge Revolution because we do not yet have equality across the world, nor does everyone have access to basic amenities and services, let alone the technology to provide them with access to information and knowledge.
I believe that what comes next, after the Knowledge Revolution is the Age of Awareness and only after this has been achieved will we achieve a sustainable level of intelligence.
If we create a level of intelligence that outstrips our own, we, by default, become second class citizens who may be deemed as too great a threat to the future existence of all life on earth to be left unchecked. Our arrogance that the earth is ours may not sit well with a level of intelligence equal to or greater than our own.
There is also the very real possibility that we may not like what we have created because we cannot control it and so we attempt to contain or destroy it.