Who hasn’t enjoyed the comforts and conveniences that Artificial Intelligence (AI) brings home? Right from Siri and Alexa to do our bidding, giving us weather updates, directions in traffic congestion, etc., AI engineering delivers when the rubber hits the road. Further, with customized shopping experiences without even the slightest difficulty of having to explain our preferences, AI has become an integral part of our lives. Our favourite Netflix shows are ‘understood’ without even the need to confide. And now, with ChatGPT, one can come up with very detailed and specific knowledge at incredible speed!
There is more that AI assists us with. In the health care industry, AI turns in very advanced scans, interpretations, assistance in organ transplant procedures, and prosthetics, to name a few. AI also comes in handy in surveillance matters. To admit that our dependence on AI is mounting is stating the obvious..
As with any technology, benefits do come with risks. One aspect of AI that is threatening is the eventual takeover where machines might become our masters. With machine learning, AI is supposedly developing into Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). While Narrow AI is proven and deals with specific tasks (Alexa, Chatbots are some examples), AGI is expected to handle multiple tasks, applying independent thinking and ‘conscious’ decisions – which is worrying, especially since it could soon be making all our decisions for us. However, there is a concurrence among researchers that AGI remains in the domain of speculation as of now.
Another apprehension is that AGI is headed towards a transhumanist ‘species’, with some calling it the next step in evolution. We might be moving from a biologically-based species to a silicon-based creature, they say. If machines can and will be intelligent, have understanding, and a consciousness of sorts, what then is to be made of the survival of the vulnerable, sentient Homo Sapiens? Renowned historian Yuval Harari has titled his second best-selling book, Homo Deus where he shares his futurist vision of where it is advancing. It is an irony that writers like him reduce human beings to mere machines, and then raise machines to almost god-like creatures!
AI & Real Intelligence –
John McCarthy wrote: ‘AI is the science and engineering of making intelligent machines.’ Are AI devices intelligent? Can they understand? Do they have consciousness? Can they think independently like we humans do? It would be alarming if machines did have a mind of their own and if they were allowed to choose whether to wield their powers for or against us. However, if humans can still master and regulate these super-fast computing machines – they could be a formidable ally and add to our collective wisdom.
Here are some other distinctions to bear in mind as we engage with these affairs.
Science & Scientism –
In the matter of AI having consciousness, the discussion dabbles in the proven narrow AI and the speculative AGI. Science and scientific fiction should be treated with the respect that each demands. One notices that many non-scientific ideas get thrown in along with the science leading to unwarranted assumptions.
Scientism is a worldview that believes Science can and would answer all questions of life. While this sounds right, Science by definition (methodological naturalism) deals with material causes and effects. So, in a study of consciousness, understanding and freedom, to name a few, it would be obvious that such concepts lie outside the purview of Science.
Human intelligence & Artificial Intelligence –
Sir Roger Penrose observed: “Though there may be an eerie impression that the computer has some understanding, in fact it has none, and is merely following some fairly simple mechanical rules … No computer has any awareness of what it does.” The distinction between Human and Artificial Intelligence is critical. As someone observed: ‘The artificial in the artificial intelligence is real’.
John Searle’s thought experiment of the Chinese room presents the idea of a man in a room with two slots. Questions are written in Chinese on a card and fed through a slot for input and the answers pop out in Chinese on the other slot. While this man’s precise responses are uncanny and people are certain that he knows Chinese – they are wrong. He is merely trained to follow instructions based on the characters on the card. Though the man does not understand the language or the meaning of the words, he is able to simulate precise responses to the commands like a native Chinese person. In other words, ‘Real’ Intelligence can be simulated.
In the spirit of the times, a quick reference was made to ChatGPT for its input. Looks like there is scope for collaboration! Here is how it summed up its response to the question: Is AI real intelligence?
“In essence, AI is a form of narrow or specialized intelligence, designed to perform well in specific domains or tasks. It can be incredibly powerful and beneficial in fields like healthcare, finance, transportation, and more, but it is not a replacement for human intelligence. Researchers continue to develop AI technologies with the goal of enhancing their capabilities, but AI remains a tool created by humans rather than an entity with genuine intelligence.”
While AI is the way to go, we would do well to upskill human resources than spend billions of dollars on possible AGI capabilities where they add little value to the larger part of our species.
John Lennox, 2084: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity