Whenever we think of Artificial Intelligence we always turn to the books and movies on the subject. It’s all the stuff of science fiction, and touches on many different approaches. Here are a few of them you might recognize.
2008: Wall E – Intelligent Machines do our work, and end up saving us
1989-2003: Ghost in the Shell – Intelligent Machines redefine and confuse our notion of humanity
1968: 2001 Space Odyssey – Intelligent Machines stay strictly on task for humanity and try to murder us in the process
1999: The Matrix – Intelligent Machines imprison humanity
1984: Terminator – Intelligent Machines want to exterminate humanity entirely
2001: Artificial Intelligence: AI – Intelligent Machines ultimately will replace humanity which is dying and destructive
Not too many good views on robots there,.. for some reason we always think of artificial minds as hostile and cold; calculating machines with no empathy or emotion (aside from Disney’s Wall-E of course). I’ve done quite a bit of research on the subject and have come to the conclusion that it doesn’t have to be this way. I believe rather than the machines destroying us or going against us, by the time we have the technology to create AI we will be integrated into becoming the machines ourselves, and carry that human element over into them.
My interest in A.I. starts from my own personal fear of death. Ever since I was little I was afraid of dying and other people dying as well. I was watching Ren and Stimpy in my basement when I was about 10 years old, and the episode began with Ren feeling really sick. Somehow Ren and Stimpy traced the sickness to a fatal disease and the two decided that Ren was going to die (at least as far as I can remember that’s how the show went.) The episode continued with Ren looking into different caskets and finally forked up the money for an underground mansion, essentially, which is where he would go to die. As a little kid this got me thinking of where people go when they die, and because of the style in which Ren and Stimpy is drawn and represented it also terrified me. It was watching this episode that I came to the realization that “death” really existed.
When my mother found me crying I told her I was afraid to die, and she tried to comfort me. “Honey, honey, that’s so far away,.. me and your father will be dead long before you die.” That did not comfort me. After calming me down some more they finally gave me something to work with, saying essentially ‘don’t cry over spilt milk’. “If you can’t do anything about it, why worry yourself over it?”
Flash forward a few more years and I am sitting in my great grandmother’s house. It smells funny but there are really interesting books all over the house; National Geographic, Reader’s Digest, and a peculiar book (that I own today) titled “Strange Facts and Amazing Stories”. As I flip through it past the ghost stories, angel and U.F.O. sightings, and Loch Ness Monsters I come across a section that concerns the future. In it is an article on Cryogenics and Liquid Nitrogen. Basically it goes like this: if you die of natural causes you can freeze yourself at extreme temperatures and preserve your body with hopes of one day, far in the future, reanimating it and surviving what killed you. At the time it truly excited me as a possible way to escape death. It made a lot of sense at the time, my only question being what happens in the in-between when you are frozen and dead in a lab somewhere? That nagging paradox aside, it really punched a hole in my parent’s argument that there is nothing you can do to avoid death.
As time went on I began to research more about cryogenics. Like all good things; however, it had its problems. For one thing its super expensive to freeze yourself and as the years drag on you have to really pay a fortune for that kind of air conditioning. You’d really have to put down a million or two to be guaranteed a chance at reaching a tech-savvy future civilization with any hopes of resurrection. Secondly the system still had huge scientific problems. Because of their high water content human cells burst after being frozen and it creates a great deal of internal damage to the body, at least in early attempts. The only successful animal testing they have done has also shown a lot of problems with thawing them out, and it will take a hell of a lot more testing to figure out how to reanimate a human body. A final problem, which kind of put the “nail in the coffin” on the whole idea, was the gamble of even being reanimated at all. Anything could go on in the world in the time that you are in the deep freeze. An earthquake could kill the power to the facility, your freezer could break in the night, or a negligent disgruntled worker could decide to unplug you. There are too many variables on an uncertain future to invest that kind of money on people and things that you won’t be around to inspect and interact with. It’s too weird.
In college I had only a few classes my senior year and so I decided to really get as much out of them as I could. I had a technology and ethics class where we were assigned to perform a 5-10 minute Powerpoint presentation on a field of our choice. After hearing about a crazy guy named Ray Kurzweil who wrote a book, “The Age of Spiritual Machines” I decided to look into Artificial Intelligence on a lark. I was astounded when I discovered my perfect answer to my nagging question of how to escape death, and as you can see by the length of this blog post my powerpoint presentation lasted a whopping 30 minutes.
Let me begin talking about Artificial Intelligence with a few basic things you need to know, and work my way toward the more interesting parts.
Computers are essentially large machines capable of manipulating and storing data. In the 1960’s something very interesting was discovered about the way in which computers store data. Gordon E. Moore, Intel’s chairmen, conceived and invented Moore’s Law in 1965 to judge the exponential increases in computing power. Moore’s Law states: since the creation of the integrated circuit in 1958, the transistors that make them up have been able to be engineered smaller and smaller. According to Moore’s Law every two years computing power doubles; we can see this in the current size of cellular phones, laptop computers, and all the other tiny gizmos we have today compared with phones and computers of the 60’s and 70’s. Some believe that because of Moore’s Law we will one day be able to contain data small enough to be written with atoms in sequence, and there are millions of those contained within even the smallest circuitry today.
So, what does this mean for Artificial intelligence? Today even the largest supercomputers we have are no match for the amount of computations a human mind makes. The human brain makes around 20 quadrillion calculations per second, whereas a computer today makes only 1 billion. However, in the next twenty years this level of computation in computers will increase by 8,000 times. Based on Moore’s Law doubling the amount of computations computers will make, between 2020 and 2030 home computers will have the same computational power and structural complexity as the human mind.
If we reach this pinnacle of technological achievement who is to say there is no difference between an extremely intelligent computer and a human mind? Our brains are essentially electronic data, and are currently being reverse engineered by scientists and neurologists (Google the ‘Blue Brain Project’). Machines are also being run using organic material (a team of scientists in the UK can run robots using rat neurons). We are at a point in our understanding of our own biology and technology that the tools we use (computers) are beginning to come perilously close to resembling our own biological tools (the ingenuity of the human mind). As Ray Kurzweil puts it in his book,“Evolution’s greatest creation-Human intelligence-is providing the means for the next stage of evolution, which is technology.”
If you don’t think we are moving towards this day when our culture merges with the mechanical, or if you are just plain scared of the idea, let me comfort you with the notion that we already live in a world surrounded by intelligent machines. Every song on the radio has been run through editing programs laced with various forms of audio A.I. Anything and everything you use to commute to and from your work has a program running in it with a form of artificial intelligence (escalators, elevators, automobiles, airplanes, and crosswalks). Even the spellcheck program I just used on this blog is a form of artificial intelligence. To me we have already passed the point of no return on merging with machines, its now only a matter of time.
Don’t get me wrong, we have a long way to go before a robot will be able to carry a decent intelligible conversation with you. Currently the computers we have are “Thoroughly Obedient Morons.” They follow a code programmed into them and if they stray from the code they crash and your web browser closes out before you’ve had a chance to save anything. They cannot create code, imagine new code, or find their way back to the path they are programmed to follow. All the A.I. today is based on complex coding specific to that robot’s task.
There are also huge theological problems. If we consider our minds as massive amounts of data floating around in the form of electric impulses then is “data” significant in deciding what is alive? The human mind assesses mass quantities of data and is conscious and alive. Under this definition who is to say that a doorknob is not intelligent in some manner? Mechanical data is entered (you turn the knob) and it results in the opening of a door (a response from that data). Taken to the extremes, if we make an exceptionally complex computer that rivals the computational power of the human brain is it considered conscious? These kinds of questions concern themselves with the foundations of A.I. and will either be solved along the way or create complications in defining what a truly intelligent machine is.
All these problems aside I came across an argument that made it all clear to me and lead me to realize the potential for immortality through machines, at least immortality of your mind and consciousness. Just answer me this question;
Is Rob Human?
In 2000-Rob is born and goes on to live a healthy life.
It’s now 2070-As he ages Rob lives in an age with lots of tiny computers and biologically created neurons. He undergoes surgery and replaces his memory with artificial memory, similar to a person getting an artificial heart. His memories are more vivid and with vitamin supplements he remembers better than he did in his 20’s. Is Rob Human?
In 2080-Rob has a stroke and loses his vision. A new artificial processor replaces this portion of his brain and in fact his sight functions even better. Is Rob Human?
In 2085- Rob replaces the majority of his failing brain with artificial parts in a series of medical procedures, and he thinks faster and remembers events more vividly. Along with a “better” brain he also has an uplink to the internet through his thoughts so he can talk to people all over the globe simply by thinking about it. Is Rob Human?
In 2100-Finally, as Rob’s body fails him in old age, he uploads his personality, memories, and entire mind onto a protected server, discarding his physical body entirely. If you talk to Rob through any means he still has memories of his childhood, or running on recess, graduating, having sex, and living a long life as a human being. Is Rob still human at this point?
I would say he is, but you have to change your definition of what it means to be human.