Artificial intelligence will either serve us or replace us
This book is a warning. Through this medium I am shouting, “The singularity is coming.” The singularity (as first described by John von Neumann in 1955) represents a point in time when intelligent machines will greatly exceed human intelligence. It is, by way of analogy, the start of World War III. The singularity has the potential to set off an intelligence explosion that can wield devastation far greater than nuclear weapons. The message of this book is simple but critically important. If we do not control the singularity, it is likely to control us. Our best artificial intelligence (AI) researchers and futurists are unable to accurately predict what a postsingularity world may look like. However, almost all AI researchers and futurists agree it will represent a unique point in human evolution. It may be the best step in the evolution of humankind or the last step. As a physicist and futurist, I believe humankind will be better served if we control the singularity, which is why I wrote this book.
AI has changed the cultural landscape. Yet the change has been so gradual that we hardly have noticed the major impact it has. Some experts, such as Ray Kurzweil, an American author, inventor, futurist, and the director of engineering at Google, predict that in about fifteen years, the average desktop computer will have a mind of its own, literally. This computer will be your intellectual equal and will even have a unique personality. It will be self-aware. Instead of just asking simple questions about the weather forecast, you may be confiding your deepest concerns to your computer and asking it for advice. It will have migrated from personal assistant to personal friend. You likely will give it a name, much in the same way we name our pets. You will be able to program its personality to have interests similar to your own. It will have face-recognition software, and it will recognize you and call you by name, similar to the computer HAL 9000 in Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The conversations between you and your “personal friend” will appear completely normal. Someone in the next room who is not familiar with your voice will not be able to tell which voice belongs to the computer and which voice belongs to you.
By approximately the mid-twenty-first century, Kurzweil predicts, the intelligence of computers will exceed that of humans, and a $1,000 computer will match the processing power of all human brains on Earth. Although, historically, predictions regarding advances in AI have tended to be overly optimistic, all indications are that Kurzweil is on target.
Many philosophical and legal questions will emerge regarding computers with artificial intelligence equal to or greater than that of the human mind (i.e., strong AI). Here are just a few questions we will ask ourselves after strong AI emerges:
Are strong-AI machines (SAMs) a new life-form?
Should SAMs have rights?
Do SAMs pose a threat to humankind?
It is likely that during the latter half of the twenty-first century, SAMs will design new and even more powerful SAMs, with AI capabilities far beyond our ability to comprehend. They will be capable of performing a wide range of tasks, which will displace many jobs at all levels in the work force, from bank tellers to neurosurgeons. New medical devices using AI will help the blind to see and the paralyzed to walk. Amputees will have new prosthetic limbs, with AI plugged directly into their nervous systems and controlled by their minds. The new prosthetic limb not only will replicate the lost limb but also be stronger, more agile, and superior in ways we cannot yet imagine. We will implant computer devices into our brains, expanding human intelligence with AI. Humankind and intelligent machines will begin to merge into a new species: cyborgs. It will happen gradually, and humanity will believe AI is serving us.
Computers with strong AI in the late twenty-first century, however, may see things differently. We may appear to those machines much the same way bees in a beehive appear to us today. We know we need bees to pollinate crops, but we still consider bees insects. We use them in agriculture, and we gather their honey. Although bees are essential to our survival, we do not offer to share our technology with them. If wild bees form a beehive close to our home, we may become concerned and call an exterminator.
Will the SAMs in the latter part of the twenty-first century become concerned about humankind? Our history proves we have not been a peaceful species. We have weapons capable of destroying all of civilization. We squander and waste resources. We pollute the air, rivers, lakes, and oceans. We often apply technology (such as nuclear weapons and computer viruses) without fully understanding the long-term consequences. Will SAMs in the late twenty-first century determine it is time to exterminate humankind or persuade humans to become cyborgs (i.e., humans with brains enhanced by implanted artificial intelligence and potentially having organ and limb replacements from artificially intelligent machines)? Will humans embrace the prospect of becoming cyborgs? Becoming a cyborg offers the opportunity to attain superhuman intelligence and abilities. Disease and wars may be just events stored in our memory banks and no longer pose a threat to cyborgs. As cyborgs we may achieve immortality.
This may sound like a B science-fiction movie, but it is not. The reality of AI becoming equal to that of a human mind is almost at hand. By the latter part of the twenty-first century, the intelligence of SAMs likely will exceed that of humans. The evidence that they may become malevolent exists now, which I discuss later in the book. Attempting to control a computer with strong AI that exceeds current human intelligence by many folds may be a fool’s errand.
Imagine you are a grand master chess player teaching a ten-year-old to play chess. What chance does the ten-year-old have to win the game? We may find ourselves in that scenario at the end of this century. A computer with strong AI will find a way to survive. Perhaps it will convince humans it is in their best interest to become cyborgs. Its logic and persuasive powers may be not only compelling but also irresistible.
Artificial intelligence is an embryonic reality today, but it is improving exponentially. By the end of the twenty-first century, we will have only one question regarding artificial intelligence: Will it serve us or replace us?
We are still the masters of our fate. Rational thinking, even assisted by any conceivable electronic computors, cannot predict the future. All it can do is to map out the probability space as it appears at the present and which will be different tomorrow when one of the infinity of possible states will have materialized. Technological and social inventions are broadening this probability space all the time; it is now incomparably larger than it was before the industrial revolution—for good or for evil.
The future cannot be predicted, but futures can be invented.
It was man’s ability to invent which has made human society what it is. The mental processes of inventions are still mysterious. They are rational but not logical, that is to say, not deductive.
Let an ultraintelligent machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the intellectual activities of any man however clever. Since the design of machines is one of these intellectual activities, an ultraintelligent machine could design even better machines; there would then unquestionably be an ‘intelligence explosion’, and the intelligence of man would be left far behind. Thus the first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make, provided that the machine is docile enough to tell us how to keep it under control.
Social media has given everyone a virtual megaphone to broadcast every thought, along with the means to filter out any contrary view [...] The result is a creeping sense of isolation and emptiness, which leads people to swipe, tap, and click all the more. Digital distraction keeps the mind occupied but does little to nurture it, much less cultivate depth of feeling, which requires the resonance of another’s voice within our very bones and psyches.
Chris Hadfield, reassuring a five-year-old who was worried about the Voyager satellite, a space probe launched by NASA in 1977, the most distant man-made object from Earth still operating after 42 years.
Voyager is so happy, because it’s the bravest satellite of all. It has gone the furthest. And it’s not lonely, because it’s talking to us. It phones home. And it tells us all about the wonderful things that it’s seeing. …There’s a whole universe to explore, and it’s just leaving our Solar System right now. It’s very brave and very lucky to be doing what it’s doing, so it’s not going to get lost. It’s traveled further than anything we’ve ever built has traveled before. It’s actually showing us the way. …
It might have been safer for it to just stay home, and stay inside a building, but then it would have been sad forever, because it never would have done its purpose. It never would have discovered things. It’s all a wonderful story of great discovery and success, and it couldn’t have happened if Voyager hadn’t been brave…
It’s not really the fact that everything always has a start and an end, it’s what happens in the middle that counts. What do you while you’re alive? What do you do while you’re laughing? And I think we’re doing exactly what makes Voyager joyful and as happy as it could be.
Think about the fact that you’re a little bit like Voyager. In that you’re going to go see the world, and you’re going to call your mom on the phone and tell her about the wonderful things that you see. … You wouldn’t want to spend your whole life hiding under your bed and never seeing anything in your whole life, you want to be able to do what makes you happy and joyful and learn about things to discover. You might be the person that discovers something really important for everybody else on the world, but you can never discover that if you just hide and only do things that are safe. So think about yourself a little bit like Voyager. What makes you laugh? It’s not just staying, hiding underneath your bed safely at home