Think about it: The brain is a physical entity. Even if
it were found to harbor some unknown laws of physics, and even if those
laws were found to be essential to what we intuitively mean when we say that
it "thinks", the brain is still a physical system. So we will be able to
build a replica. Not perhaps today or tomorrow, but certainly within the
next four or five decades. Pretty exciting, right? To a lot of people, the
answer to this question is a definite "no". Many people seem to dread
this thought more than they dread the Bomb.
Why are people afraid of artificial intelligence? Maybe
they think that if we can create an artificial human we will have proven
once and for all that humans are nothing more than fancy machines. Browsing the
bookstores brings forth countless examples of authors with purported
"proof" that humans are oh-so-much more than "simple algorithms". Using any
half-baked argument in sight, from religion to metaphysics, why would they spend
the energy trying to convince their readers of this? Clearly, they are
afraid that they might turn out to be wrong. So we have to assume that this is
quite possible. Should that be the case, it brings up the question how -
in the future - we would tell difference between human and robotic behavior.
My argument would be to say that it's *already* hard to tell, when, after
all, the majority of people behave like robots, mindlessly copying each
other on almost everything: Going after the latest fashion, buying junk
food with dangerous additives, upgrading their computers whenever the
advertisements tell them to (based on the amount of computing power now amassed on
the average desktop you'd think every family was doing protein
folding at home), watching sports on TV, believing the stories of organized
religions, working relentlessly towards that "bigger and better" car
(that they see in the ads while watching sports), and spending much of
their free time on shopping sprees.
In fact, most people take a lot of pride in what they
consume ("My boyfriend just bought a Mercedes!"). Wouldn't the world
be more interesting if most people instead took pride in what they *produce*?
There is a significant lack of dialog about the
importance of creativity in society. If aliens visited the Earth they would wonder
what happened to all the good ideas on this planet, because they'd have a
really hard time finding signs of creative output. They would observe our
television technology and marvel at the fact that such a simple
device can render large populations virtually motionless for hours,
completely free of a single creative thought or idea. (The only few hours in
the day, in fact, when they could be doing *anything* they
wanted.) If the aliens were to float the theory that television sucks out all human will
to be creative, the result would undoubtedly be a pile of alien Ph.D.
theses on the subject.
I've never heard of anyone who went to war over
artificial intelligence. I've never heard of anyone who still claims the earth is
flat - because of artificial intelligence. Have large groups of people ever
hated each other - because of artificial intelligence? Has someone you
know ever shut their ears to sensible arguments about the origin of life - in
the name of artificial intelligence? Have you heard of an institution
that protects its constituents from crimes they committed - in the name of
artificial intelligence? Has your girlfriend ever done anything you
found illogical - because of artificial intelligence? I didn't think so.
Maybe if you replace the term 'artificial intelligence' with 'religion' in
these sentences, more of the answers will be 'yes'. Because what people
*really* should be afraid of is religion. Religion has a way (and a history) of
shutting people up and taking away their will to ask questions. There is no
place for *why* or *how* in religion, only *what you should be doing*, and
*thinking*. As a result, a lot of people, religious or otherwise, are
afraid to ask questions - many people don't even know how. Strangely,
religion spreads. It's one of those things that people mindlessly copy from
each other. If they didn't everyone would have their own unique
Which brings us back to artificial intelligence. If
people knew how to ask questions about what it means to be a human, or were even
motivated to ask *any* questions about the matter, they wouldn't be so
afraid of A.I. But most of the time people think the thoughts and have the
opinions that others have had before. They believe what they consume
from the media, instead of doing their own research based on reliable
sources, and coming to their own conclusions. Imagine how the world would be
if most people were actually producing novel thought, instead of
regurgitating the thoughts that are already echoing between others
In a related story, no artificial intelligence has so far
been created that shows human-level creativity. There is progress, however,
using software to identify new protein structures and invent novel chemical
compounds, and one case of a painter robot that produces artwork
indistinguishable from that of a human artist. A computer has won the world
championship in chess, but as of yet, no robot has come up with anything even
resembling a years worth of work of the average, dumb scientist, engineer,
writer, or plumber.
Given this state of affairs, people should be *longing*
for artificial intelligence, not fearing it. In a matter of decades
computers will be powerful enough to simulate a human brain on our desktop
(assuming the majority of people keep upgrading their computers -
mindlessly, of course). Then we can use A.I. to create even more mind-numbing
television programs (no need to hire another creative director, just hit "go"
on the joke-o-matic). At that point people can safely continue
to pass on creative thought, and go on with their favorite pastime of
consuming mass quantities: Their personal A.I. will come up with all the
thoughts that are needed to keep the rest of society going.
Why is it so hard to find original thought in the world?
Is it because all or most of the interesting thoughts have been thought
already, so we leave it to the "weirdos", "eccentrics" and the so-called
"intelligentsia" to think the rest? Or is it because there are so few
interesting, original questions and ideas in the world to think over? Actually,
neither could be the case; after all, in the last century humanity has
discovered and invented more interesting phenomena and things than in
all the many hundred thousand years of human evolution before that. That, by
the way, is not because of a significant increase in creative thought -
merely the coordination of a large number of people in ways that
sustains their work for more than a few months at a time. After all, creative
thought takes a lot of work.
Sure, inventors and scientists are revered, and there are
some real inventors (I know a few) who are actually creative. Many
scientists, however, have a significant lack of imagination.
I blame this on the fact that in society as a whole, and
especially the in the educational system, there is no
fundamental understanding of the creative process, or the
value of creative thought. As a result we are unable to
support creativity within our many programs - we're even unable to detect it when
it pops up in our back yard. So the only solid conclusion
can be this: There's a serious lack of support for creative
thought in society, and a serious lack of dialog about it.
With this being the situation, no wonder scientific progress
creeps along, gadget mania is the primary driving force of
technological innovation, and the average citizen keeps being afraid of
robots and artificial intelligence.
Now, it's possible you might think that this article
contains few if any original thoughts, and that I should have spent more time
coming up with new ideas instead of writing down what you've already
seen elsewhere. To you I say 'I am proud to be a robot!'