13 Feb 2020


Experts say that the rise of artificial intelligence will benefit most lives over the next decade, but many are worried about how developments in AI can impact what it means to be human, to be successful and to practice free will. Digital life improves human capacity and disrupts old human activities. Code-driven structures of ambient knowledge and communication have spread to more than half the world’s people, providing previously unimagined possibilities and unparalleled risks. When artificial intelligence (AI) powered by evolving algorithms continues to spread, are people going to be better off than they are today?

Technology pioneers, innovators, entrepreneurs, business and policy leaders, academics and activists experts believe networked artificial intelligence could enhance human effectiveness but also undermine human control, agency and capabilities. They spoke about the wide-ranging possibilities; that computers could equal or even surpass human intelligence and capabilities on tasks such as complex decision making, reasoning and learning, sophisticated analytics and pattern recognition, visual acuity, speech recognition, and language translation. Said “smart” devices will save energy, money, and lives in cities, in cars, in buildings and services, on farms and in business processes, and offer opportunities for individuals to experience a more personalized future. Many have based their positive remarks on health care and the many potential uses of AI in diagnosing and treating patients, or in helping senior citizens to live safer and fuller lives. Both were also excited about the role of AI in contributing to broad public-health programs designed around massive amounts of data that can be collected on everything from personal genomes to nutrition in the coming years. A number of these experts have predicted that AI will promote long-anticipated improvements in formal and informal education systems.

However, most experts, whether positive or not, voiced concerns over the long-term effect of these new tools on the essential elements of being human. In this non-scientific canvassing, all respondents were asked to comment on why they thought that AI would leave people out better or not. Several expressed deep concerns, and many proposed ideas, too. The tale of how human beings are to be replaced by intelligent machines goes something like this: As a long-term phenomenon beginning with the Big Bang, the evolution of hierarchical organisms, of which animal life and human intelligence are relatively recent examples, is growing in pace over time. Similarly, as a long-term trend starting with the first mechanical calculators, the evolution of computing capacity increases in velocity over time and lowers costs. The human brain, an electro-chemical machine with a great but finite number of complex neuron connections, has sprung from biological evolution, the product of which we call mind or consciousness. The brain obeys the laws of physics as an electro-chemical machine; all of its functions can be interpreted and duplicated. And as computers are already running at far faster speeds than the brain, they will soon equal or exceed the brain in their ability to store and process data. When that happens, at the very least, the machine will be able to respond to stimuli in ways indistinguishable from human responses. We would be justified at that stage in calling the computer intelligent; we would have the same reasons to make it aware that we now have some consciousness other than our own when granting such a name. At the same time, the human brain analysis would help us to replicate its computer circuitry functions. Advances in brain imaging would help us to synapse-by-synapse “print out” brain functions, enabling the replication of individual minds in some hardware and software combinations. The result would be smart computers, again.

Artificial intelligence algorithms are intended for decision making, often using real-time data. Like passive devices, these are only capable of mechanical or predetermined responses. We collect information from a variety of different sources using sensors, digital data or remote inputs, evaluate the content instantly and act on the knowledge extracted from those results. We are capable of immense complexity in analysis and decision-making, with massive improvements in storage systems, processing speeds, and analytical techniques.

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