The Fear of A.I. & The “Human” Condition

There are endless doomsday scenarios that people become obsessed with and frightened by. From global warming to the fear of an apocalyptic artificial intelligence take over. These fears are justifiable, we should be cautious and strive to overcome these potential dangers but should also understand what’s at the heart of these fears.

The latest doomsday scenario is the fear of artificial intelligence. Bill Gates, Steven Hawkings, and Elon Musk have made headlines with their warnings about the dangers of A.I. However, many A.I. experts are in disagreement with this theoretical scenario, which has sparked debate. Mark Zuckerberg entered the debate in disagreement with Musk, believing it to be irresponsible to spread doom and gloom without fully grasping the situation. Musk says Zuckerburg has a limited understanding of A.I. but A.I. experts appear to side with Zuckerberg.

In response to Musk’s warning, Pedro Domingos, a professor at the University of Washington who works on machine learning, has said, “Many of us have tried to educate him and others like him about real vs. imaginary dangers of AI, but apparently none of it has made a dent”.

Gates, Hawkings, Musk, and Zuckerberg are not A.I. experts. Undoubtedly, they are versed in the subject but if people insist on using the appeal to authority fallacy, they should go to the experts on A.I., who have varied perspectives on the matter, none of which are as simplistic as a full-blown A.I. take-over that will “end humanity”. Of course, we should be cautious, but not irresponsibly dramatic.

To be clear, Gates, Hawkings, and Musk are not outright asserting that A.I. will end humanity, they are simply acknowledging the potential dangers of it. Unfortunately, apocalyptic headlines are great click-bait, so people highlight the negative doomsday scenario while forgetting the positive-transformative scenario, which they have all mentioned as well.

Ray Kurzweil, who has an astonishing prediction accuracy of 86%, believes we should not fear artificial intelligence since it will be slowly integrated into our society, in various sectors and competing groups and therefore, no single group or sector would control or become controlled by A.I.

The reality of A.I. is more complicated than people realize. For example, we could see a state ruled with A.I. by choice, rogue A.I. that steals control of an area, A.I. that sides with human interests, and perhaps even civil wars among A.I. The “human” role in this won’t be quite human, either. By the time A.I. is that complex, we’ll have a large variety of bio-enhancements that change our view of what it means to be human in the first place.

These end game fears reveal a misconception we have about ourselves. We perceive ourselves as separate from that which we create and have evolved from but we’re actually the continuation of a bigger process.

If we are separated as commonly perceived, at what point did we become human and at what point did humanity become humanity? The answer is that there was no defining moment at which we became what we are. We weren’t suddenly homo-sapiens, just as we weren’t suddenly Neanderthals, suddenly the basic oceanic life forms that we evolved from, nor the basic compounds that collided with Earth or the stars which those compounds came from. Likewise, the implications of A.I. and the singularity are not suddenly what we’ll become. It’s all a part of the same overarching process and it should not be feared nor thought of as an end to humanity.

As hippie-dippie and new-age as it may sound, we are connected to the cosmos and we are the cosmos. The cosmos created a way to see its reflection, slowly evolving into its own introspection. Just as we were once an oblivious baby, we learned to read and write, to understand our surroundings and it’s not unreasonable to think that the universe is doing the same thing in a more complex way that’s simply more difficult for us to understand.

“Man know thyself; then thou shalt know the Universe and God” — Plato

The struggle that grips us and perhaps the cosmos itself is not the fear of it ever ending but the fear of our own reflection, the complexity, and depth of it all; the struggle of “to be or not to be”. Every day, we wake up and yearn for something more, wishing we could manifest all that we dream of and yet, it would be terrifying to step into a world in which we‘re literally capable of anything, practically destroying what makes it desirable in the first place.

It’s not the “human” condition, it’s the cosmic condition. It’s the struggle and strife of it, the balancing act and introspection of it, that gives life meaning.

“It is precisely the godlike in ourselves that we are ambivalent about, fascinated by and fearful of, motivated to and defensive against. This is one aspect of the basic human predicament, that we are simultaneously worms and gods.” — Abraham Maslow