I watched my granddaughter graduate from high school yesterday. I was in my robe and slippers with my morning cup of sweet coffee still in hand. She and I were physically separated by about one hundred twenty miles but streaming video made it possible.
I go to my library without ever leaving my home. I let my fingers do the walking through the apps on my iPad.
Movies are delivered to my computer without any necessity to go to the theater.
My retail therapy happens when I’m sitting in front of my computer with my credit card. I frequently have nice conversations with disembodied voices, most likely computer-generated, in the customer service departments of these remote online stores.
Wonderful convenience, all of it. I can go days without setting foot outside my home or seeing another living soul. Almost all of my physical needs can be met by the machines we already have at our disposal. But what is this convenience doing to my emotional needs. What are we giving up in return for this incredible convenience? Are we dancing with more danger than we realize? I don’t have answers, I only have questions. What effect does this increasing automation and support from artificial intelligence have on our human brains, our human muscles, our interaction with others of our species?
James Barrat tells us in his blurb for his book, OUR FINAL INVENTION: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AND THE END OF THE HUMAN ERA “Artificial Intelligence helps choose what books you buy, what movies you see, and even who you date. It puts the “smart” in your smartphone and soon it will drive your car. It makes most of the trades on Wall Street, and controls vital energy, water, and transportation infrastructure. But Artificial Intelligence can also threaten our existence.”
Could we reverse this major cultural shift toward letting machines do it if we decide that we want to? The retailers who have embraced e-commerce made possible by the development of artificial intelligence would probably not be happy campers.
Nor would our generals.
Our wars have moved from two champions fighting to the death to hand to hand combat and combat on horseback to tanks and trucks and planes and helicopters. Our weapons have grown from clubs and spears to cannon balls and bullets to missiles and bombs. Now thanks to the ongoing development and refinement of artificial intelligence, we have drones that can wreak destruction under the control of soldiers far out of the direct line of fire. Joseph Weizenbaum, a long time opponent of the rush toward improving artificial intelligence, said before he died in 2008, “War might not exist now if there wasn’t the capacity to wage it remotely.”
We are a competitive race and even as I write this, no doubt government and private enterprise are pouring money into research to see who can be first to develop the “next big thing” in artificial intelligence.
The area where I now live has a large population of Amish and Mennonite families. They move among us, serene in their simplicity, dependent on nothing mechanical, separate from our search for the “better, more comfortable life.” When I see a carriage on our highway, or watch someone ride into his job on horseback, I have to wonder if they know something that we’ve forgotten and probably should relearn.
James Barrat’s book warns us about “the perils of the heedless pursuit” of advanced Artificial Intelligence. “Until now,” he tells us, “human intelligence has had no rival. Can we coexist with beings whose intelligence dwarfs our own? And will they allow us to?” Political Scientist Charles T. Rubin believes that “Artificial Intelligence can be neither designed nor guaranteed to be benevolent.”
Something to think about!