In this segment on artificial intelligence (AI), part four, we’ll look at the augmented human being, part human, part machine. And don’t laugh. Computer or robotic-assisted devices are being used to augment the human condition right now. For but one example, see my previous story on exoskeleton technology.
Another slick piece of wearables allows legally blind people to read newspaper and magazines, or product labels in a grocery store, even the money they take out of their pocket to pay the cashier, using artificial visualization technology.
As neuroscientists unleash the mysteries and power of the human brain while, at the same time, AI researchers build programs that get smart and smarter, even to the point where they become autonomous learners, human anatomy and robotics, along with AI software, will converge into human/machine hybrids, some of which will have more human characteristics than others. In other words, if we live long enough, say twenty more years, we may actually meet Mr. Spock, or a reasonable facsimile thereof.
Some of my academic friends who are working on this exciting future are not as enthusiastic as you would think. Many fear that the ethics will not keep pace with the technology, that we will create, arguably, a new species whose rights and freedoms will not comport with our justice system as it is today. Others are concerned about the economic value of people in an age where machines and computers will do almost all of the work. What are we going to do with 5 billion in surplus labor for which there will never be a job? Without income potential yet still constantly need to consume goods and services, how will the contribute to the betterment of our species and our world? There are no good answers for any of this yet. But there certainly are many grave concerns over them and many others.
But with all the ethical, economic and social concerns over AI, what most scientists are most anxious over is the notion of singularity. Singularity, as it pertains to AI, is the moment in the future whereby computers will become not only smarter than humans (and their programmers) but autonomous as well. If you haven’t guessed by now, they’re talking about the master/slave relationship between man and machine flipping. How this would exactly happen, nobody really knows. The anxiety of such a time is difficult to imagine. But it’s almost definitely only a few decades away. And while I may be naive, if a bunch of Mr. Spocks started running our world, it’s hard to imagine how that wouldn’t be an improvement.