Will artificial intelligence and robots destroy the human race or make us immortal?
Perceptions by Gerry Warner
Will artificial intelligence (AI) mean we may never die? Or will it mean the end of humanity and the triumph of the machine? Greater minds than this one are feverishly debating this issue around the world and so far the odds don’t look good for the human race.
Here’s what the renowned British physicist Stephen Hawking has to say:
“The primitive forms of artificial intelligence we already have, have proved very useful. But I think the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race," Hawking told the BBC. And Hawking says the turning point is coming soon. "Once humans develop artificial intelligence it would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate."
For those of us of a certain age this will bring back the terrifying plot of one of the most famous science fiction movies ever, “2001: A Space Odyssey,” when HAL, the psychotic computer aboard the Saturn space ship, mutinies and tries to take over the ship. This, of course, is a metaphor for robots taking over the world and ushering in a New Age of a bot-controlled universe with the human race becoming redundant.
But will it ever get to this? Depends on who you ask.
Alfred Einstein, one of the greatest minds of the 20th century, wasn’t optimistic. “I fear the day technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.” This may sound a tad paranoid, but many today say Google is reducing people’s ability to think independently and over time will cause our brains to shrivel.
But others maintain AI holds great promise for the human race. Eric Horvitz, head of Microsoft’s main research lab, has a more benign view of the AI threat. “In the end we’ll be able to get incredible benefits from machine intelligence in all realms of life, from science to education to economics to daily life.” Benefits like driverless cars, machine-made human organs to replace ours when they fail and robots that will wait on us hand and foot and remove all the drudgery of daily life. A pill that will cure cancer.
Sounds pretty good at first blush, but one of the greatest minds of the current era says be careful what you wish for. Elon Musk, head of the futuristic companies Tesla Motors, Space X, and Solar City, says AI is our biggest existential threat and calls it “summoning the demon” and in a twitter post says “we need to be super careful with AI, Potentially more dangerous than nukes.”
So what are we to make of all this? Is AI and all the beneficial, and often infuriating, technology we live in these days leading us to a new utopia of unlimited leisure and contemplating our navels or are we heading down a dark, dystopian path to a world dominated by bots and machines where flesh-and-blood human beings don’t matter anymore?
Personally, I’ve never quite bought the notion that someday computers will revolt against us and try to destroy us for all the times we’ve cursed them for screwing up our documents or crashing when we most needed them. I mean computers are just a bunch of bits and bytes and how could they feel emotions like anger or revenge?
Surely it’s a stretch for inorganic objects made of silicon and steel to think in a human sense at all or feel some of the more negative human emotions like anger, envy and revenge? Those are the passions the human race is cursed with. Computers are just big memory banks. They can beat us at chess, but they can’t take any pride in doing it.
But the day will arrive when computers take over our jobs because they can do them faster, better and cheaper. That’s when real threat to humanity will emerge. No work, no career and no sense of identity. We’re hard-wired to our jobs and careers and without them we’re lost.
That’s when humanity will be in danger of being destroyed. Not by computers and robots, but by ourselves. Ask any geek.
Gerry Warner is a retired journalist and is skeptical of the “benefits” of artificial intelligence