A date with Artificial Intelligence


By TFL Mawlong  

 “But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, to the time of end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased” – Daniel 12:4.

Evolution is an ongoing process which has taken humans from food gathering to a knowledge economy that’s being powered by a digital revolution. Today we are living in a tricky transformational period with rapid and disruptive changes happening across the globe. Would it be fitting to say that human race is achieving criticality? Are we the critical mass of human civilization? These may be crazy and perhaps nonsensical questions, but they are chilling enough to cause goose bumps on my skin.

At the World Government Summit held in Dubai on Monday, February 13, Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, confidently suggested the need for humans to evolve and merge with the machines in the age of Artificial Intelligence. Quoting Elon Musk, “Humans cannot compete with Artificial Intelligence (AI), so human needs to merge with AI in order to avoid becoming irrelevant.” It’s a fact that in terms of speed and capability, even the smartest of human brains will be of no match to Artificial Intelligence, especially if “human-level” AI would become a reality. It’s therefore just natural to imagine the futuristic Artificial Intelligence supplanting the homo-sapiens. And the fact that most human tasks could be automated means that we are looking at the prospect of a large scale replacement of human by AI. In fact according to Elon Musk, 15% of global jobs will be lost to AI in the next 20 years.

At the heart of Elon Musk’s remark is an ongoing intense research and experimentation on Artificial Intelligence in the world. This is a period when not only researchers are seeking to build algorithm that simulates adult mind and striving towards human-level AI, they are also seeking to build what is called the “habile system” or the “general purpose machines” that could be taught to acquire any skill in the same way humans are trained in vocational institutes (Nils J. Nilsson 2005).  The essence of such teachable Artificial Intelligence systems is the ability to grow, improve and change by a continual learning through imitation, experience, practice and education.

AI researchers have also had some extreme suggestions of building machines that have the inbuilt facilities for learning that human infants have, and growing from there in an educational environment. This is similar to creating a “digital child” and leaving it to grow and develop by itself. As the machine ages, it will acquire skills, knowledge and grow in its abilities just like human infants do, except that this machine would be multiple times faster and more capable than any “biological child”. Alan Turing called this machine the “child machine”. In his 1950 paper, Alan Turing wrote: “Instead of trying to produce a programme to simulate the adult mind why not produce one that simulates the child’s? If this were then subjected to an appropriate course of education one could obtain an adult brain (from a digital child)…”

Anyhow, although AI researchers are yet to develop such habile system or such child machine, the hope is high, the prospect is good and the work is progressing well. In fact powerful AI technologies have already been developed for automating human tasks. For instance, we are hearing talks about: (1) Robot lawyers – Companies (e.g. LexPredict) have developed case-predictive software that can predict outcome of court cases with more than 90% accuracy. These predictive legal-advice robots have the potential to make inroads into the Lawyers basic tasks. If these bots rise we are looking at a prospect of restructuring the legal workforce given the opaqueness, low efficiency, low accuracy and sluggishness of the legal industry. There have been talks about AI eventually coming to supplant lawyers at least to some significant extent if not wholesale replacement.

(2) Autonomous cars –  “The cars you drive will eventually be outlawed in favour of ones that are controlled by robots” says Elon Musk, whose self-driving “Tesla Model S” is capable of auto piloting in so far as changing speed, brake and keeping the car in correct lane is concerned.  People at Tesla and Google are enthusiastically working at improving the onboard sensors and computers for high speed and accurate processing of images on road, with an inbuilt capability of learning behaviour and improvisation. In fact Tesla’s aim is to develop a completely self driving car of the future by 2018. When that happen, according to Musk, robot controlled cars will become safer than human controlled ones and eventually the public themselves may prefer the former. And that, according to Musk, will lead to the replacement of the 2 billion vehicles today by autonomous vehicles in 20 years time.

(3) Virtual Reality – With futuristic technology capable of creating a digital simulation of all the five human senses (Touch, Smell, Hearing, Taste and Sight), virtual reality headsets like the Oculus Ridge, Samsung Gear and Google Daydream are gaining popularity.  Many people are choosing to live a virtual existence on the Net, forming cyber friendships and relationships; some are going to the extreme of actually marrying a video game character.  According to “The Future of Dating” a 2015 report from the Imperial College Business School London, cyber dating, romance and elopement via virtual reality is expected to become the norm by 2040.

The signs are indeed screaming enormous possibility of a new and uncertain tomorrow; change is afoot and I believe it won’t be long before complicated chemical molecules that operate in humans could be replicated by the equally complicated electronic circuits and algorithm, thereby making computers as complex as the human brain. That would mark the birth of the “human-level Artificial Intelligence” or the “deep AI” which is much smarter than the smartest human on earth. And once AI achieves this level of intelligence, they can presumably design computers that are even more intelligent. Human intelligence on the other hand is limited by the size of the brain that will pass through the birth canal.

Thus going by what Elon Musk said, humans must merge with machines to avoid becoming irrelevant. This essentially means making human partly machine (i.e. a sort of cyborg) by a technique called “neural implant” that allows a much faster communication between the brain and computers. If we don’t, the superior “deep AI” will take charge and, quoting Elon Musk, “the robots taking away our jobs” (not just industrial but medical, legal and even teaching job) would be the least of human worries. Can people cope up with such change? Can people cope up with the speed of change? Or, will the change lead people to stress and disorientation or the “future shock” as Toffler called it in his book “The Future shock” (1970)? Or, will it leave human race decaying?  All I can say is, as someone said, “God’s goal for mankind isn’t to advance as far as we can or to know all we can discover!”


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