We have nothing to fear from Artificial Intelligence
I made a conscious decision never to watch Terminator 3 or 4 or 5 or….well, you get the picture.
I doubt that anyone reading this will be thinking — ‘well you missed out’.
Terminator 2 was such an outstanding film that I felt any further elaboration was unnecessary. It turned out, according to the reviews, that I was right.
I remember when T2 first came out. It introduced the floppy-haired cool of Edward Furlong; A blistering motorcycle chase scene set to the immortal GnR song ‘You Could Be Mine’ and a new type of cyborg — one that didn’t need big muscles like Arnie because he was made of liquid metal. Booyah!
T2 was a standout part of my childhood, but at that time, the storyline was very much considered fiction. I couldn’t have considered that it was close to becoming a reality in my lifetime. The closest thing we had to a cyborg back then was a Super Nintendo. Super Mario Kart was a revolution, but there was no chance of Mario coming to life and crushing your skull.
These day things are different.
The machine world dystopia fed to us by the Terminator series, then later by the epic Matrix series, was pure entertainment. Now with the birth of 5G and the inevitable rise of nano computing, some of us are looking at the situation and thinking —
You know what? That could happen quite quickly from here.
Influential figures like Elon Musk have spoken in-depth about the risk that we face from Artificial Intelligence. He has referred to AI as humanity’s “biggest existential threat” and compared it to “summoning the demon.” (source)
After all, the level of AI might not quite be on par with a human, but it is evolving at a rate much quicker than ours. What could take a human brain 10,000 years to achieve, is taking less than a decade with computers. The rate at which technology is speeding up is also speeding up. This is leading to an exponential curve that could see us living next to androids ala Bladerunner in less than twenty years. (source)
But before you grab your shotgun and head for the mountains, we need to understand something else.
Twenty years ago, if you lost your leg in a machine accident at work, you would be stuck with a fake leg. Mostly this was a piece of wood that mimicked your leg whose only purpose was really to save you the embarrassment of somebody judging you for missing a limb. The limb didn’t do anything. Users complained that the limbs were clunky, heavy and looked nothing like the real thing.
But now, according to an article in Science Daily, scientists in Switzerland have developed a prosthetic leg that moves and acts like a real leg. Not only does it act like a real leg — it is controlled by the user via their brain waves. Ultimately what this means is that when you go to move the hand with your mind, the hand moves how you want it to move.
“After all of these years, I could feel my leg and my foot again, as if it were my own leg,” reports Resanovic about the bionic leg prototype. “It was very interesting. You don’t need to concentrate to walk, you can just look forward and step. You don’t need to look at where your leg is to avoid falling.”
When I first read about this, I could hardly believe it. The implications of this are extraordinary. Then again, we have seen this coming for a while.
Resanovic is one of three leg amputees, all with transfemoral amputation, who participated in a three-month clinical study to test new bionic leg technology which literally takes neuroengineering a step forward, providing a promising new solution for this highly disabling condition that affects more than 4 million people in Europe and in the United-States.
Of course, at this stage, the limbs are still in development. But at our current rate of advancement, it won’t be long before they are being sold as a medical device.
Another incredible breakthrough is the invention of the bionic eye. In Australia, CERA has successfully tested its bionic eye in several clinical trials
The bionic eye mimics the function of the retina. It works by taking images from a tiny camera on the person’s glasses and converting them into electrical signals that travel to electrodes in the eye.
Electrical impulses stimulate residual cells in the retina that connect to the optic nerve to create ‘visual information’ that the brain interprets as an image.
This provides ‘a sense of sight’ for a person to discern shapes, movement, faces, shade or light and to navigate the everyday world.
At present, the bionic eye is relatively crude, but Associate Professor Penny Allen, leader of the bionic eye project says that advancement of the technology is going to be based on software innovation. More specifically it will depend on how accurately the software is going to be able to recreate the image in the electrical signals sent to the brain.
The fact that the advancement of this technology is dependent on the improvement of software is good news. Ultimately it means that there is no limit to what this bionic eye can do in future.
Which brings me to the main point of this article.
Once the bionic eye or the bionic leg reach the same capacity as their biological counterparts, is it likely that the technology will stop there?
What happens when we can start creating eyes and legs that perform better than a human leg?
Is it possible that what begins as a medical solution, may end up becoming a cosmetic solution?
In other words, when this technology advances, will people start to have their current eyes and legs replaced by choice? This is not an entirely foreign concept. It has been covered in various sci-fi works including the brilliant HBO/BBC drama ‘Years and Years’.
But surely, the advancements of technology only relate to body parts, right? Surely we are not talking about something as far fetched as a bionic brain right?
Scientists have created an electronic memory cell that mimics the way that human brains work, potentially unlocking the possibility of making bionic brains.
The cell can process and store multiple bits of information, like the human brain. Scientists hope that developing it could make for artificial cells that simulate the brain’s processes, leading to treatments for neurological conditions and for replica brains that scientists can experiment on.
This was published five years ago in the Independent. For those who are wondering, bionic brains are well on their way to becoming a reality.
So again, we have to ask the question ‘how long will it be before all of these bionic replacement parts become a thing for humans? How long will it be before, instead of shopping for a new car, you go shopping for a new nose or ear? Imagine the used car salespeople of the future selling used bionic body parts.
Imagine that just as you have to update your phone right now, you have to update your body instead.
Could our future bodies become a series of bionic body parts that all communicate with each other? Could building your own body become something like customising your own PC, with your bionic brain as the mainframe?
In this scenario which on a current tangent is not just possible, it is likely, what becomes of the artificial intelligence that we all fear?
Well, it is us.
We are the artificial intelligence of the future. In the classic movies of the nineties, they forgot to consider one crucial element — that man and machine would merge. (Maybe they covered this in terminator 3 or 4 or 5 or 6 or 7 or whatever?). That leaves us in a very different position where we are no longer fearing AI but, instead, considering the ethical and spiritual implications of such a world.
Sure, we won’t have machines to fear. But we do know that humans are very good at falling out with each other. We have to consider that the wars of the future will be fought out between those who have the best technological bodies, minds and whatever else. We have to consider that the superpowers already know this. The AI race between the US and China has been well documented.
One bizarre thing to think about is how much of our bodies can be replaced without us losing our sentience?
If the brain can be replaced, the heart can be replaced, and all of our body can become synthetic, how will we die? Will it even be possible to die? Such a subject requires a whole book in itself since one would have to consider spiritual as well as a scientific theory about what death is.
Regardless, what we know is that the future is both tremendously exciting and utterly terrifying. The probable merge of man and machine indeed kills off the Cyberdyne systems theory that we will be left fighting a bunch of crude robots. Nevertheless, it doesn’t alleviate the fear altogether. Instead, it creates a brand new type of fear — the fear of a concept that since the beginning of ages has been the number one ambition of human beings — that we will become immortal.