TIME magazine 07 March 2016, page 44-49, sets a tone of worry about the recently arrived artificial intelligence displacing human beings. The subject begins with the sorrow that machines are encroaching on the last bastions of human intelligence. In this case the ancient Chinese game of Go grandmaster was beaten by a Google computer; not long ago it was IBM’s Watson that beat humans at the human information game of Jeopardy; a bit earlier it was in the strategy game of chess that computers beat the best human players. Okay, computers can out-compute the best humans in some complex but very narrow games, what’s the worry? Jobs! What are people going to do to make a living if everything, even driving cars and flying airplanes and delivering packages to our home, is done by intelligent machines?
David Gelernter is the chosen spokesperson for humans in the TIME article, but the list of human heroes includes Ray Kurzweil, Sam Altman, Michio Kaku, Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking, Nick Bostrom and Elon Musk, all giants of high technology. I thought they all missed the real point of the problem – time. Even Kurzweil, the extreme futurist, is only projecting his thoughts out to a couple of decades. Kids alive today can plan to live eighty years, which is decades beyond this speculative article’s temporal border, even though this is supposedly a future-oriented article. You might say that it is impossible to predict that far into the computer future when we have come so far in the last ten years, and the rate is quickening.
The answer about the future is obvious – humans as we presently know them will be totally mentally obsolete in many ways, just like we are already obsolete in many physical ways. Bostrom takes the grim view that humans have no function in the not very distant world and will be returned to a wild state or eliminated. Too many people are just destroying the world, so trim them down to a happy few.
Gelernter gets all emotional about the demise of human superiority and delves into human soft issues like the ability to appreciate art, to smell fragrances, to dream, to enjoy romance and the human experience.
I think all of these guys are totally missing the point, and the point is time. Computers and their descendants are going to keep on gaining abilities in speed, depth of analysis, in total information available, and in wisdom about what happens in reality when given complex preconditions. They are thinking in terms of a few years, avoiding decades, and totally shunning centuries, and yet computers can be constructed to have personalities that may be extant for billions of years and more. Those future descendants will, without doubt, be vastly more capable – in every way – than the computers these TIME subjects are worried about.
But why worry? Nearly all sentient humans believe they will personally die, at least physically; some have hope of having an eternal conscious spirit, but with no testable proofs of that dream. And, if we die personally, why should we worry about dying as a species? As a species we have had a hundred-thousand-year run, but our future is very obscure when we consider CRISPR adding special qualities to our basic DNA. Perhaps our human computers and AI taking over is a very good thing, because it is a way of us projecting our personality on into the distant future.
Humans being integrated into AI is a process of us living forever.