A popular theme in science fiction and indeed mainstream science is the idea of AI or Artificial Intelligence. You might be surprised (I certainly was) to know this isn’t a modern concept. In fact this idea goes back to Greek mythology. For example, Hephaetus and his automata and Talos – the giant man of bronze who guarded Europa (that doesn’t sound very sci-fi more another genre…moving on!).
I’m not convinced we really understand intelligence or have a definition that stretches beyond what we think we know about who we are as a species. Part of the confusion I believe is the role of consciousness and awareness and our paranoia about surviving. But there is a double layer of hubris and fear sandwiched between thick slices of narcissism to contend with before we can digest the idea of AI.
So here are some of the basic themes sci-fi has played with over the years to give a sense of why we are stuck with perpetual repeats of ideas but in different outfits, jargon and special effects.
1: Humanity gets technologically advanced.
2: This technology ‘mimics’ thought…problem solving…
3: Technology becomes aware of itself…(stop loading the ‘Descartes-I think therefore I am’ software would be a start I suggest).
4: Now that it is ‘self-aware’ it decides to annihilate it’s creator or;
5: AI struggles with complex ethical issues, receives mixed messages – and goes with its own solution (which is bad for us – 2001 A Space Odyssey)
6: Technology merges with biology (androids, cybernetics/cyborgs) with mixed results (word of warning, if you are at a nightclub with one, do not let it put its finger in your drink…Prometheus reference). Seems these beings freak us out the most as they are so close yet so far away from being human.
6: Death – suffering – ‘poor us’ humans lament their faith in trusting AI.
7: Humanity finds the thing that makes us unique in the universe and ‘wins’ – and its less dark, grimy and weather improves, suddenly the sun comes out in dystopic post-apocalyptic earth/world.
I am of course generalising, but I think it is necessary in order to get to the deeper philosophical levels of inquiry. That being said, I still love Alien for the sheer ‘s$*t your pants’ factor.
The rollercoaster is predictable for it rests on fundamental assumptions of psychology and biology. Particularly the role of ‘the mind’, of power, control, and popular concepts such as ‘Darwinian’ survival of the fittest. We are invited to take up the moral high ground as a species, that our level of consciousness combined with ethics and values makes us ‘special’ or more able to know deeper/higher/more complex notions of connection (empathy, compassion, love?). Doesn’t seem to stop us getting our asses kicked!
One of the most powerful working assumptions that acts as an accelerant to the AI phobia fire is the ‘absence of a soul’. Our connection to God or an idea of a creative force, with or without Religious doctrine runs deeply and goes largely unquestioned. But this presumes we know what a soul is/isn’t. Much like consciousness, we might just have to revisit the ‘flat-earth’ thinking associated with complex notions of awareness and ‘beingness’. Philosophy, religion and science are still competing for the rights to this ‘truth’…perhaps they should try and bore the circuits of AI with fanaticism from all angles “system failure…B-S overload…shutdown”.
For me the irony is plain to see – as afraid as we are of machines developing intelligence and ‘might’ want to destroy us, that is in fact exactly what we are doing to ourselves, except that we embrace it, call it progress…advancement…whatever helps us swallow the reality that we are the machines – robotic, hypnotically and unconsciously carrying out the programming of mass consumerism. Would be good to have an ‘off switch’ sometimes though – perhaps that is what a sense of humour is.
It comes down to the questionable criteria for intelligence. Intelligence is an invented idea therefore all intelligence is artificial, in that it is a social construction forged by institutional practices and knowledges such as science, religion, medicine, psychology. I think intelligence has been captured by rationalistic, modernistic thinking and could do with an overhaul, or ‘reboot’, because I feel quite uncomfortable with the current evidence of us being an ‘intelligent’ species.
Science fiction helps us investigate, explore and probe (woops, no pun intended) our ideas about ourselves from multiple angles. But please…no more Terminator movies…give us some respect for our intelligence.
So lets all ‘Rage Against The Machine’ – and Wake Up! I’ll leave it over to Neo wrap this one up.