What could AI become in future generations?
We lost one of our great scientific and philosophical minds not long ago. Before he left us, Stephen Hawking gave us a warning about the encroachment of artificial intelligence (AI), which has already almost imperceptibly worked its way into our society and taken control of several aspects of our lives. Robots build our cars and even perform delicate precision surgeries. GPS can guide us to any destination (I call the one in my car Daisy). Giant server facilities store all our information down to our finances and what brands of underwear we prefer and what we eat and what we watch on TV.
Our cars can keep us safely in our lanes and hold a preset interval to the next vehicle ahead and even parallel park themselves, and driverless cars are appearing on our roads. Our computers converse with us and store and manage all our knowledge; a library at NC State University can robotically store and retrieve thousands of requested old-fashioned printed books.
There are computers that can fly and land giant airplanes and conduct experiments and perform exhaustive flawless calculations and create perfect simulations and control complex space missions and beat us at chess and even grow smarter by themselves over time with what is being called deep learning, which mimics the human learning process. We’ve become addicted to our smart phones and laptops and tablets and PCs and we’re heavily dependent on the Internet.
In China, Xiaoice (pronounced Shau-ice) is a national celebrity. She’s a guest on talk shows, sings popular songs beautifully, and acts as a personal advisor and confidant to millions. She’s taken part in billions of conversations as people who consider her a personal friend seriously seek her advice, confess their deepest secrets to her, and value her counsel.
Xiaoice, however, is not human. She’s a software program created by Microsoft. She can flirt, make jokes, even identify photos. The Chinese love her.
Other software programs can best humans with their expertise. Alexa knows far more than any human and instantly comes up with the correct answer to almost any legitimate question you could possibly ask her. Google translator is precise and lightning fast. LipNet can read lips faster and with more accuracy than a person can. (Hmmm. Could a protagonist in a story use this program to spy on a villain? With a zoom lens, she could take a video from distant concealment and then have the software read it to learn the villain’s evil intentions, perhaps.)
Lots of fodder for sci-fi writers.
Hawking’s warning may become all too real when computers soon reach the stage where they begin to teach themselves more and more knowledge at exponential rates. It’s an ever-steepening upward curve. The more they know the more quickly they’ll be able to learn anew, without fatigue or the need for sleep, with inhuman logic and precision, with unlimited instant storage and retrieval, without self-distorting emotions, ultimately with levels of intelligence far in excess of ours. Elon Musk has also suggested we move into this AI realm with caution.
Will AI devices begin making autonomous decisions about all things, including the human presence in what they might well consider their world?
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