David Krakauer has a nice article over at Nautil.us about history, technology, philosophy, artificial intelligence, and a quote from Philip K. Dick, i.e., a perfect storm of topics to get my attention.
In pursuing questions about the evolution of intelligence, what is becoming increasingly clear is that evolution is driven largely by advantages gained from overcoming the constraints of restrictive computational architectures: brains, bodies, and crowds. Evolution is never “satisfied” by its hardware or its environmental “software” because there is always surplus information to be processed in the world. And this surplus information can be used to improve the power of prediction and control over the physical world—for good or for bad. If an abacus extends the range of our arithmetic we manipulate it. If a telescope extends the range of our vision we look through it. And if a computer should extend the compass of our logic we shall reason by it. And in time the contributions of human and artifact become nigh on indistinguishable.
The fear of an Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the fear that we might abdicate thought, and potentially far worse, forego our free will for expedient information-processing environments—and that a distributed system, a cloud consciousness, will emerge to make all of our decisions for us, including the proper time to die.
So, why pursue AI at all, if it truly is as the fearmongers would have it: a singularity that will drive us to extinction?
The reason is that we create, because we must. And for those of us who are working to create a better place through smart(er) machines, we hope to create something that makes the world better or a task easier.* Moreover, and in the crassest terms possible, if the singularity does come about, I think it is pure hubris on the part of homo sapiens to think that silico sapiens will be bothered to do anything about us.
The artists know what it is to be driven to create, and for researchers it’s the same:
William James captured this sentiment when he wrote “The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.”
*Or for those who have turned to the Dark Side and work for the security state, let’s hope they at least have pure, if misguided, motivations.