Who's afraid of the big bad AI?

Published: Fri, 06/09/23

Many years ago I had my first encounter with an automated cinema telephone booking system which used voice recognition software. As I recall the system failed to understand a single one of my answers, in the end the call was redirected to a human operator who quickly and efficiently processed my booking. I found the experience particularly ironic since the film I was attempting to book tickets for was entitled ‘A I’ , short for Artificial Intelligence, and set in a future world where intelligent robots are indistinguishable from human beings.
Apparently today, the latest, greatest, threat to the future of the human race (apart from ‘climate change’, ‘pandemics’, and the threat of nuclear war) is the development of computers with genuine intelligence.
I am not quite sure why intelligent computers should be considered such a threat to human beings. One possibility is that they might take jobs away from human beings. We have had about 200 years of technology replacing human beings in all kinds of industry. Railways wiped out the stage coach business which once employed thousands of people, not least in the care of carriage horses. A mechanical digger can do the work of a hundred men with picks and shovels. A modern container ship has a crew similar in size to the number of men that sailed the Cutty Sark (usually around 26 men), yet the contemporary vessel carries hundreds of times the volume of cargo than a 19th century sailing ship. Generally speaking the wealth generated by the application of technology provides employment elsewhere in the economy. We keep hearing about the shortage of skilled labour, so presumably gaining the right skills will get people back into
employment, if that is what they really want.
Perhaps the real question should be; what is intelligence anyway? The word seems to have many different meanings. IQ rating (intelligence quotient) is assessed with standard tests and is supposed to predict how well a person will cope with certain kinds of education, or not as the case may be. Military intelligence might sound like an oxymoron, but just means collecting and analysing accurate and useful information about the enemy. I would suggest that there are six kinds of intelligence which can be described as follows:
1. Problem solving as demonstrated by a hungry squirrel working out how to reach a bird feeder.
2. Information organisation.which requires the ability to name, categorise, and index things of all kinds.
3. Emotional intelligence, the ability to understand one’s inner drives and fears and be positively motivated by emotion, but not ruled by feelings.
4. Moral intelligence. In the first Jurassic Park film the chaos mathematician played by Geoff Goldblum points out to the creator of the resurrected dinosaurs that they asked the question can we bring these creatures back to life? The question they should have asked is; should we do it?
5. Inspirational intelligence, the ability, or maybe just the willingness, to receive and make use of inspiration, where ever it might arise from.
6. Divine wisdom, the ability to discern the true meaning and purpose of life.
Where does AI fit into this scheme? A long time ago I found myself in the Camberly Staff College library for a couple of hours. (Long story) Since the staff college is the top military academy in the UK you would expect the library to be the ultimate resource of military history and reference. However, those two hours were possibly the most depressing of my life as I realised that I would need about a 100 years of continuous reading to learn all that was available on those shelves. However, if all those books were digitised a powerful computer could access all that information pretty much instantaneously. And that is pretty much all computers are really good for, eg number 2 in my list.
Why would I want access to that library? Because such information would stimulate and feed various aspects of my intelligence. Accounts of problems solved in the past gives me ideas how to overcome the challenges I face on a daily basis. It is instructive to learn how others have coped with strong emotional experiences through stories of conflict and struggle against the odds. My enthusiasm (an emotional response) for stories of leadership and decision making informs my own ability to decide between what I can do, and what I should do. As you may have noticed my own writing is inspired by stories I find all over the place. I certainly find military history to be a rich source of ideas to explore, and so are current news stories about AI. As far as wisdom is concerned I believe that we are put in this world to learn how to discern between right and wrong and the example of those who have engaged in the great struggles of history
are an essential guide for us today, whether we learn by their successes, or their failures.
Digital technology as it exists today gives me a wide and rapid access to information and knowledge that was probably available throughout history, but was much harder to find in the past. What I then endeavor to do is apply this access to information to the other aspects of my intelligence. However, I cannot see how a current computer can demonstrate moral or emotional intelligence beyond what it has been programmed to do by a human being.
So, what do we have to fear from AI? Obviously algorithms can be written for nefarious purposes, although this programming should be easy enough to recognise if you exercise the full range of your human intelligence. The scare story is that if computing power reaches a certain level then digitial technology might become self-aware. Then who knows what a fully sentient machine might do to us mere mortal humans?
Perhaps two possibilities here. We get told that real AI has arrived. Seriously evil things happen and AI takes the blame. Which would be very convenient for those who actually programmed the computer in the first place to, say steal all the money in your bank account. Call me paranoid, but I strongly suspect that the stories we are hearing about AI are actually a cover for something else.
Or, computers do start to demonstrate the full range of intelligence as described above combined with the efficiency of powerful data processing and access to unlimited information. At that point willful human stupidity will become all too apparent. The most likely response of genuine AI will be pity for us poor deluded creatures who all to often refuse to exercise the intelligence which we do have. Since compassion is integral in genuine intelligence I don’t think that true AI would try and destroy the human race. More likely true AI would just highlight our refusal to access the truth and to exercise critical thinking. I am not sure that such an embarrassing exposure of foolishness might not be worse than death.
Don’t be too concerned about AI, which may never really exist anyway. Worry about the failure of human beings to exercise the intelligence we are born with.
PS If you really want to discover your potential for critical thinking and genuine awareness come and spend 3 days in the woods in order to learn and explore Stav on all the levels of genuine intelligence. More details at http://stavcamp.org/
PPS Dates for your diary. So far this year we have had two very successful day training courses, Salisbury in February and East Yorkshire in May. I have booked two more dates, Salisbury on the 7th of September, and Tickton, East Yorkshire on the 4th of November. Will get web pages up as soon as I can.
PPPS Never anthropomorphise your computer, they hate that.
Graham Butcher
21 Beaver Road
Beverley East Yorkshire HU17 0QN

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