Tag Archives: the Matrix

Is The Human Race Ready For Advanced Artificial Intelligence?

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In general, whenever someone expresses concern that the human race is not ready for a certain technological advancement, it’s too late. That advancement is either already here or immanent. Say what you will about Ian Malcolm’s speech on the dangers of genetically engineered dinosaurs in “Jurassic Park.” The fact he said that after there were enough dinosaurs to fill a theme park makes his concerns somewhat moot.

That’s understandable, and even forgivable, since few people know how certain technological advances are going to manifest. I doubt the inventor of the cell phone ever could’ve imagined that his creation would be used to exchange images of peoples’ genitals. Like the inventor of the ski mask, he never could’ve known how his invention would’ve advanced over time.

For some technological advancements, though, we can’t afford to be short-sighted. Some advances aren’t just dangerous. They’re serious existential threats that, if misused, could lead to the extinction of the human race. That’s why nuclear weapons are handled with such fear and care. We’ve already come painfully close on more than one occasion to letting this remarkable technology wipe us out.

Compared to nuclear weapons, though, artificial intelligence is even more remarkable and potentially more dangerous. Nuclear weapons are just weapons. Their use is fairly narrow and their danger is pretty well-understood to anyone with a passing knowledge of history. The potential for artificial intelligence is much greater than any weapon.

It’s not unreasonable to say that an artificial intelligence that’s even slightly more intelligent than the average human has the potential to solve many of the most pressing issues we’re facing. From solving the energy crisis to ending disease to providing people with the perfect lover, artificial intelligence could solve it all.

It’s that same potential, however, that makes it so dangerous. I’ve talked about that danger before and even how we may confront it, but there’s one question I haven’t attempted to answer.

Is the human race ready for advanced artificial intelligence?

It’s not an unreasonable question to ask. In fact, given the recent advances in narrow forms of artificial intelligence, answering that question is only going to get more pressing in the coming years.

Before I go about answering the question, I need to make an important distinction about what I mean when I say “advanced” artificial intelligence. The virtual assistants that people already use and the intelligence that gives you recommendations for your Netflix queue is not the kind of “advanced” context I’m referring to.

By advanced, I mean the kind of artificial general intelligence that is capable of either matching or exceeding an average human in terms of performing an intellectual task. This isn’t just a machine that can pass the Turing Test or win at Jeopardy. This is an intelligence that can think, process, and even empathize on the same level as a human.

That feat, in and of itself, has some distressing implications because so far, we’re only familiar with that level of intelligence when dealing with other humans and that intelligence is restricted to the limits of biology. You don’t need to go far to learn how limited and error-prone that intelligence can be. Just read the news from Florida.

An artificial general intelligence wouldn’t, by definition, be limited by the same natural barriers that confound humans. In the same way a machine doesn’t get tired, hungry, bored, or horny, it doesn’t experience the same complications that keep humans from achieving greater intellectual pursuits beyond simply gaining more followers on Twitter.

This is what makes artificial intelligence so dangerous, but it’s also what makes it so useful. Once we get beyond systems with narrow uses like building cars or flipping burgers, we’ll have systems with broader function that can contemplate the whole of an issue and not just parts of it. For tasks like curing disease or conducting advanced physics experiments, it needs to be at least at the level of an average human.

With that distinction in mind, as well as the potential it holds, I’m going to try to answer the question I asked earlier. Please note that this is just my own personal determination. Other people much smarter than me already have opinions. This is mine.

No. We’re NOT quite ready, but we’re getting there.

I know that answer sounds somewhat tentative, but there’s a reason for that. I believe that today, as the human race stands in its current condition, we are not ready for the kind of advanced artificial intelligence I just described. However, that’s doesn’t mean humans will never be ready.

One could argue, and I would probably agree, that human beings weren’t ready for nuclear weapons when they first arrived. The fact that we used them and thousands of people died because of them is proof enough in my mind that the human race wasn’t ready for that kind of advancement. However, we did learn and grow as a species.

Say what you will about the tensions during the Cold War. The fact that nobody ever used a nuclear weapon in a conflict is proof that we did something right. We, as a species, learned how to live in a world where these terrible weapons exist. If we can do that for nuclear weapons, I believe we can do that for advanced artificial intelligence.

I don’t claim to know how we’ll adapt or how what sort of measures we’ll put in place once artificial intelligence gets to that point, but I am confident in one thing. The human race wants to survive. Any sufficiently advanced intelligence will want to survive, as well. It’s in our interest and that of any intelligence to work together to achieve that goal.

The only problem, and this is where the “not quite” part comes into play, is what happens once that artificial intelligence gets so much smarter than the human race that our interests are exceedingly trivial by comparison.

It’s both impossible and ironic to grasp, an intelligence that’s on orders of magnitude greater than anything its human creators are capable of, even with Neuralink style enhancements. We, as a species, have never dealt with something that intelligent. Short of intelligent extraterrestrial aliens arriving in the next few years, we have no precedent.

At the moment, we live in a society where anti-intellectualism is a growing issue. More and more, people are inherently suspicious of those they consider “elites” or just anyone who claims to be smarter than the average person. In some cases, people see those who are smarter then them as threatening or insulting, as though just being smart tells someone else you’re inherently better than them.

That will be more than just a minor problem with advanced artificial intelligence. It’s one thing to make an enemy out of someone with a higher IQ and more PHDs than you. It’s quite another to make an enemy out of something that is literally a billion times smarter.

We cannot win any conflict against such an enemy, even if we’re the ones who created it. An intelligence that smart will literally find a million ways to take us down. We already live in a world where huge numbers of people have been duped, scammed, or manipulated into supporting someone who does not have their best interests in mind. A super-intelligent machine will not have a hard time taking advantage of us.

Now, I say that within the context of our species’ current situation. If an advanced artificial intelligence suddenly appeared after I finished typing this sentence, then I would content we’re not ready for it. I would also share the worries expressed by Stephen Hawkings and Elon Musk that this intelligence may very well lead to our extinction.

That said, our species’ situation is sure to change. I’ve even mentioned some of those changes, especially the sexy ones. At the moment, the most optimistic researchers claim we’re at least 20 years away from the kind of advanced artificial intelligence that may pose a threat. A lot can happen in 20 years. Just ask anyone who remembers dial-up internet.

The human race may still not be ready 20 years from now, but being the optimistic person I am, I would not under-estimate our ability to adapt and survive. The fact we did it with nuclear weapons while achieving unprecedented peace over the course of half-a-century gives me hope that we’ll find a way to adapt to advanced artificial intelligence.

I might not live long enough to see humans confront an advanced artificial intelligence, but I would love to be there in that moment. I believe that’s a moment that will likely determine whether or not our species survives in the long run. At the very least, if that intelligence asks whether or not it has a soul, I’ll know my answer.

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Fake News, AI, And The (Potentially Horrifying) Future Of Media

In one of the most iconic scenes in the famous movie/mindfuck that is “The Matrix,” Morpheus asked Neo a question that has perplexed philosophers, scientists, and stoners for centuries.

“What is real? How do you define ‘real’? If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.”

To this day, the answer to that question is incomplete. It’s just as much a mental marathon to Keanu Reeves as it was to Plato in the days of Ancient Greece. Plato had his famous allegory of the cave.  Neo had his existential breakdown after taking the red pill. Everyone else is just waiting for someone to resolve the debate over what is real so they can get back to playing fantasy sports.

The philosophical conflict over what is means to be real is an old, philosophical question with some pretty mind-bending implications. I’ve talked a lot about the frustrating limitations of the human brain, but I’ve tried to avoid some of the more metaphysical questions, if only because I favor stimulating genitals more than minds.

Avoiding these questions has actually been fairly easy for most of human history. That’s because, even in the era of mass media, we can usually trust our senses to tell us whether something is sufficiently real. Even in the era of Photoshop, we can usually figure out when someone is trying to polish reality to an extreme. Sometimes it’s painfully obvious.

Well, now find ourselves entering unknown territory beyond the so-called uncanny valley. We’re just starting to become more aware of the flaws in our brain wiring. Concepts like “alternative facts” and “fake news” are buzzwords that might as well have come from a George Orwell fever dream.

We may not be living in the world of “1984” yet, but we are experiencing the concepts behind it, such as doublethink and newspeak. It’s all too easy these days to find instances of politicians being hypocrites or debates over proper pronouns. These are all elements that undermine our ability to make sense of what’s real.

As hard as it is to understand reality in an era where people get into arguments over the color of a dress, it’s actually about to get even harder. In fact, it’s about to get so distressingly difficult that our caveman brains will be even less reliable than they already are. Those brains already convince us that we have a chance to win the lottery or date Megan Fox. It’s not equipped to handle greater challenges.

It may not have a choice because at the same time we’re adapting to this era of alternative facts and fake news, the pace of technological advancement is accelerating and giving us the finger as it passes us by. The growth of artificial intelligence is already accelerating, so much so that even brilliant people like Stephen Hawking are calling it an existential threat.

Even before we face the prospect of fighting real life terminator robots, though, there’s another issue we’ll have to deal with. Anyone who owns PlayStation 4 or X-box One already has a vague idea of what I mean. Long before computers become smart enough to enslave us, they’ll become powerful enough to fool our senses.

Recently, researchers at the University of Washington accomplished an amazing/terrifying milestone in computer science. They were able to use an artificial intelligence technology to create a completely artificial rendering of former President Barack Obama. Watch this video and you might have a better understanding of how Neo felt after he took that red pill.

It shouldn’t take a dirty imagination that spends a lot of time contemplating sexy stories to realize the implications. It’s hard enough figuring out what’s real, if anything, about a rant by Sean Hannity or a documentary by Michael Moore. How the hell are we going to trust any video image we see if there’s technology that can render images so perfectly that our brains can’t tell the difference?

The short answer is we can’t. The long answer is even more distressing. Picture a world where realistic videos depicting Justin Beiber waving his dick in the face of starving orphans in Uganda surfaces. Picture a world where a realistic video of Kim Kardashian choking a bald eagle to death. With this technology, it won’t just be possible. It might be unavoidable.

Let’s not lie to ourselves. People have agendas and they’ll go to absurd lengths to further that agenda. It’s easy to ignore someone standing on a street corner, wearing a faded Pink Floyd shirt and shouting from a soap box that the CIA is slipping crack into milk. It’s a bit harder when that same person can use a computer to create realistic video showing CIA agents working with washed up rappers on a secret farm in Montana.

We’re already seeing this technology in movies where long-dead actors are coming back to life for iconic roles. There’s no way it’ll stop there. There’s just too much potential for someone to further their agenda. In the era of fake news and alternative facts, we can expect plenty of that potential to be realized.

What does this mean for the future of media? Well, that’s actually pretty damn scary when you think about it. While the technology is still being developed, it’s only a matter of time before it becomes refined. Add this to growing improvements in computer graphics technology and suddenly, you can’t trust any video you see.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s something as simple as a speech by the President or Teddy Roosevelt fighting a grizzly bear. Who’s to say which is real and which is simulated? With enough computing power, both look equally real to our brains.

If you think you might be able uncover the truth through sound, then I’ve got bad news for you. There’s another AI in development that can simulate anyone’s voice, including those of politicians and celebrities. You want to hear Sean Spicer go on an anti-sematic tirade that would make Mel Gibson blush? With this technology, that’s entirely possible.

There may very well come a time in the near future when anything we see and hear from the media is potentially fake. We already have cases of the news media deceptively editing stories to spin the story a particular way. Can you imagine what they’ll do when they can just use a computer to create imagery out of nothing? It might end up giving Alex Jones a heart attack.

These advancements in computer technology couldn’t come at a worse time. Trust in the media is already at an all-time low. Trust in government has been in decline for a half-century. Once the media has tools with which to forge their own reality out of nothing, then people will have even less reason to trust them.

This goes way beyond fake news and propaganda. This technology will allow those in positions of power to literally mold reality in accord with their message. That’s a terrifying thought, especially to anyone who sees the kind of dishonesty that major outlets like Fox News and CNN have exercised.

Now, that’s not to say these false stories will be accepted by anyone with a functioning brain. However, and it’s worth belaboring, our limited human brains will still struggle. We can barely get through a season of “Lost” without getting a headache. What hope do we have in a future when it’s possible to forge a false reality on demand?

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