AI Overview

AIThere are no shortages of books about artificial intelligence (AI); however, all too often, the subject is addressed in technical isolation. In this section, we shall attempt to address the balance by considering the subject of AI in the much wider context of the ongoing evolution of sentient intelligence. The term 'sentient intelligence' is used deliberately, because the ultimate outcome of an artificial, technology-led evolution, which encompasses AI, could be the accelerated extinction of what we currently call humanity. Within the usual discussion format, the reader is asked to consider and reflect on the implications of AI developments as being outlined:

What is the purpose and future of sentient, intelligent life on Earth?
What are the implications of AI and when will it happen?
Why would we develop a technology that might make humanity obsolete?

Within this section, we shall present a broad range of predictions associated with AI, which may have already influenced the perception of AI. However, subsequent sections then go on to gain a wider perspective, inclusive of not only the technology issues, but also the philosophical and social issues, as the implications of AI go well beyond the confines of science:

  1. Putting aside whether sentient AI is possible for one moment, what would be the moral, ethical and philosophical issues associated with its creation?

  2. If it is decided that the development of AI is morally acceptable, what will be the consequence of its development on society?

  3. Finally, if the goal of AI is both morally and socially acceptable, what technologies will be the key catalysts that drive its development?

The rest of the section will be structured around a concept called 'Hybrid AI'. Within this paradigm, it is argued that the evolution of human biology and AI technology has already started to converge and could continue in a staged process towards the eventual emergence of sentient AI. However, rather than being asked to just accept this model, the reader is also challenged to consider the evolutionary consequences implicit in such a vision of the future:

What happens if AI based technology essentially makes billions of people redundant; what will be the function of humanity in society?

If AI were to become sentient, could we explain why, and for what purpose, we had created a new life form?

Today, given the somewhat near minimal understanding of human consciousness, there are many sceptics who doubt the feasibility of ever being able to truly create sentient AI. However, one of the more worrying aspects of the hybrid AI paradigm is that it does not actually require artificial sentience, as the essence of self-aware consciousness can be initially provided by the biological component within the hybrid AI entity. Clearly, there could be many worrying implications in such an approach:

Are there any practical constraints on the physical form of hybrid AI?
Can hybrid AI be based on a non-human, biologically derived system?

Within the hybrid AI model, sentient intelligence is still linked to its biological roots. However, artificial evolution would now be driven by technology developments rather than natural selection. The acceptance of this argument could change the timeframe of evolution from millions of years to tens of years and will present humanity with a new dilemma:

The question being presented to humanity is not just whether it wishes to wait a few million years for natural evolution to take place, but whether it wishes to leave its evolution to chance?

As the discussion progresses, each new section details developments in human and artificial intelligence plus human and prosthetic anatomy. This information is then used as the common basis on which to speculate further on the staged evolution of hybrid AI:

When will it be possible to construct a two-way brain-computer interface?
What sections of society would accept a prosthetic anatomy?
What impact would an extended life span have on society?

Throughout, the concept of hybrid AI alludes to an evolving ability to construct an extended reality that includes both physical reality (PR) and artificial reality (AR). With reference to earlier historical paradigms, it can be shown that 'what the universe is' and 'what the universe is perceived to be' can be two very different things. Extrapolating current developments in virtual reality onto an ability to interface the human brain with a computer would allow reality to be re-programmed, which might then ultimately challenge our current notion of reality:

Can you prove that you are not already a strong AI programme and everything you see, hear, touch, smell and taste is not simply the result of input data into your programme?

If the programme were simulating all sensory inputs in response to your thoughts, how would you know there was any other reality?

Within the paradigm developed, hybrid AI evolves as the intellectual offspring of humanity, rather than its biological offspring. What we may therefore need to consider is: 

Does this really matter?

Of course, as yet, there can be no definitive answers to many of the questions being raised, only subjective opinion. Still, it might be reassuring to know that future generations of AI researchers were considering the implications of such questions before, rather than after, the event.