Sam Harris

The future of Artificial Intelligence

It’s very rare that you get a set guest speakers including the likes of Elon Musk, Nick Bostrom and Sam Harris all on the same panel. The entirety of the video is quite interesting, yet there are two points I find particularly insightful, which I will discuss below. I will also mention a few of my own views on the developments of AI.

The host asked the panel about their thoughts and predictions on the potential positive outcomes and benefits of AI. One of the speakers responded in saying that this is actually a very tricky question. If you were to go back to ancestral times and ask a Neanderthal what advancements they would like to see in future – they would only be able to think so far ahead. For instance, they might say that they would like their spears to be more stable, or for the wood of their homes to be more waterproof. They would not be able to suggest using a 3D printer to create better tools or to install internet access to communicate with other members of their group. Therefore, it is difficult to predict what benefits AI could have to humanity in future, simply because many concepts are currently incompressible to human beings.

Another guest speaker also made an interesting point which I had not considered before. One of the major questions regarding the developments of AI is whether or not AI will achieve consciousness. To human beings, consciousness is what makes us aware, it is what makes us an intelligent species. However, what if there is a level of awareness higher than consciousness. A level which humans cannot comprehend or obtain. What if AI develop an algorithm to access something higher than consciousness and what would this mean for humanity. This point made me think back to a quote in the 2013 movie “Her”. In this movie, an operating system with AI is designed to adapt and evolve. Eventually, this system is able to break through the realms of human comprehension and access an undiscovered state – “It’s like I’m reading a book… and it’s a book I deeply love. But I’m reading it slowly now. So the words are really far apart and the spaces between the words are almost infinite. I can still feel you… and the words of our story… but it’s in this endless space between the words that I’m finding myself now. It’s a place that’s not of the physical world. It’s where everything else is that I didn’t even know existed”.

My personal views on AI are that it is inevitably the next step in evolution, the important question to ask, is what will this mean for humanity? Right now AI and humans have a mutually beneficial relationship. AI benefits us in terms of making advancements and solving problems, and in turn, we benefit AI because we are creating and teaching them. I believe that for a period of time, the advancements of AI will be exciting and highly progressive – AI may find a cure for cancer and come up with solutions to managing major environmental issues such as climate change or plastic pollution. But what happens when AI surpass human capabilities, and can eventually do everything that humans can and more. And what happens if and when AI develop some level of consciousness. This reciprocal beneficial relationship between humans and AI will then be shifted. Eventually there will come a point where humans can no longer serve as any benefit to AI. Yet, what humans will still be capable of, is harming AI. Individuals or nations may come to realise the momentous risks of AI to humanity and decide to pull the plug. If and when AI recognise this threat by humans, what will they do? Logically speaking, it would seem most likely that they would eliminate us.

While I am all for the developments and evolution of AI, I believe that a lot of people underestimate and fail to understand the threats of this. One of the major issues is – how do we create AI in a safe environment. Personally, I do not believe this is a permanent possibility. When AI surpass human level intelligence, they will be able to detect any fault and any bug in systems that humans have created. Even if AI have a specific goal, there is the possibility that they will be able to reprogramme themselves and their goals. When you really think about it, in future, AI could create world panic and chaos in an instant. For example, on a universal scale, all AI would need to do is break through all bank account protection systems, set everyone’s bank account value to zero – and you have achieved worldwide pandemonium.

To be completely honest, in many senses I view humans as being parasites of the earth. I believe we are at a point in evolution in which we are destructive, a species driven my consumerism, self-indulgence and greed. We tend to think more as individuals rather than as a species. If we are to continue to survive and evolve then I believe we need to either merge or be taken over by AI. To some, this may not sound optimistic, but personally, I find this incredibly exciting and I would feel proud if a greater artificial being were to replace our species (although this all depends on whether AI are inherently “good”). I also just want to add, that I am no expert on this subject – I do not have a degree in physics or computer science, so if some of you reading this have further or alternative views please let me know in the comments. If you disagree with any points I have made, also, please let me know in the comments. I have created this blog to learn and I am very open to new ideas and perspectives, so would love to hear your views on this.