A few years ago Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk had a well-publicized disagreement over the potentially destructive consequences of future generations of artificial intelligence (AI). Mr. Zuckerberg felt AI would in large be a net positive to society and any doomsday scenarios were alarmist. Mr. Musk believed the doomsday scenarios should not be discounted and stated “AI is a fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization.“
Others point out that even before we get that far the replacement of human workers by super-intelligent robots in professions as diverse as telemarketers to doctors, will leave many people unemployed and strain, possibly break, society’s social safety nets.
What both of these doomsday scenarios fail to account for is the perseverance of humankind. Faith in humanity to persevere. Whether it is engineering the necessary safeguards to ensure super-intelligence does not morph into super-destruction or modifying our social contracts to account for possibly prolonged periods of joblessness due to technological disruption, the doomsday scenarios are overly pessimistic but still highlight hurdles that require our attention.
Technology replacing human workers is not new and some of our existing social safety nets were designed during past periods of elevated joblessness. This has been happening since the earlier Industrial Revolutions. But if the past is any indication of the future employment rebounds after a sufficient period of workforce retraining and new industries providing new sources of employment come online. Have faith that we can do the same again if it proves necessary. Have faith in human ingenuity, compassion, and love, to persevere.
As for prognosticators predicting the end of civilization at the hands of an all powerful AI. Well I wouldn’t bet against humanity just yet. AI is still in its infancy. The rigorous engineering and error tolerances that have been pioneered in other engineering disciplines have not been applied to AI yet. In some AI applications today success rates of 90% are considered acceptable. Think automatic photo tagging of friends and family on Facebook. Compare that to the current state-of-the art for some highly available systems that require reliability tolerances of 99.99999% or even higher. And if things do fail regardless of that reliability? Then good engineering isolates and minimizes the damage. Backup systems take over. Yes there may be an outage but it is isolated, short-lived, and not catastrophic.
Am I worried about an artificial super-intelligence destroying human civilization? No because I have faith in humanity, its engineers, and its regulators and legislators. That does not mean our safety will come for free. It will require sound engineering discipline, diligence, and regulations enforced at many steps along the way. But I believe AI must be developed. Its power and potential for good are just too significant to ignore.
What is that potential? I believe a day will come when AI is able to think like a human and in the process become self-aware. After self-awareness I believe AI, with human guidance, will develop the beginnings of compassion and empathy. What follows will be the hallmarks of something much greater: artificial love.
In an earlier post I said I believed that for human beings, love, life, and a soul come into existence at the same instant in time, in utero. That this trinity was enforced by The Greatest Love. But what about an artificially created, self-aware being, that can love? Does it represent life? Today we cannot come to a consensus on what constitutes life so the prospects for a human created artificial intelligence being widely declared a form of life is still a far ways off. But I believe that day will come.
And when we largely agree that humanity has created a form of life that is capable of love we will ask an even more fundamental question: Does it have the right to a soul and should we as its creators provide it with one? Not a supernatural soul as imparted by The Greatest Love that transcends the laws of nature and unlocks the Heavens for us, but an artificial soul representing a covenant between humankind and its creation. A covenant promising continued life for the love contained within the lifeform after the original body becomes obsolete or rendered inoperable beyond repair. Can we allow loving life, which we created, to die into nothingness? Or will the love in our own hearts for our creations mandate that we provide more to them upon their initial cessation as, I believe, our Creator has provided us?
There are so many more questions to this train of thought but, perhaps fortunately, I believe they need not be answered anytime soon. Humanity artificially creating loving life is in the far distant future. I believe it lies beyond the second vision and perhaps past our current evolution of sacred love. That a higher love is required for humanity to sufficiently define and encode love into artificial life. Until then I believe we have evolved enough to begin this journey and I do not fear the march of the robots.
In fact I believe it is a necessary march. A march that will force our civilization to gaze into our own souls and assess what it means to live and to love. We will never recreate what it is to be human. For we are not gods nor will we ever be. But it is in the attempt to understand and define our love and our lives that we will grow and learn and become a better people. This in turn, I believe, will be reflected in the loving life that we eventually create.