Artificial Intelligence – Friend or Foe
Is artificial intelligence (AI) the largest threat to humanity or our biggest help? Depending on who you ask, you may find two very different answers. Many people do not have a positive opinion of AI. While many worry that AI seeks to take over the World in a conjoined effort to be rid of human beings, others believe that AI will fulfill the purpose of assisting humanity in making the world a better place to survive in. Perhaps fear of artificial intelligence stems from mistrust of human nature and assumptions of how that power would be used by humans if one were to have it.
Building AI codes based on how people think allows AI to surpass the limitations of the human mind and further solve equations and problems that benefit the greater population. By doing so, human lives could be saved, and inventions improved to greater service the environment. On July, 2021, Scientific American Magazine released an article written by Indian author, and science journalist Anil Ananthaswamy, who reported of the advanced findings by a machine-learning algorithm AI named “MELVIN” created by Quantum physicist Mario Krenn. One day as he sat down to his morning coffee, Krenn evaluated several computer printouts MELVIN had produced that made little sense to him. He assumed the machine had a bug in its system because the solution Krenn was reading in the data did not exist to date. As he studied the solution closer, he found that the computer had generated entirely new algorithms to experimentally create the entanglement of photons in their quantum state. Programmers and colleagues who had contributed to the programming of MELVIN had not provided this machine with the “rules” to “generate such complex states, yet it had found a way” (Ananthaswamy). Since the discovery, other teams have started performing the experiments computed by MELVIN. “Within a few hours the program found a solution that we scientists—three experimentalists and one theorist—could not come up with for months,” Krenn told Ananthaswamy. Discoveries of this nature generated by artificial intelligence contributes to modern breakthroughs in the areas of quantum physics, a science used to aid many efforts in helping solve global crisis (such as global warming,) and provide answers to relationships between the universe and the human body. Further developments in this field contribute to prolonging life overall.
A more direct example of how Artificial Intelligence can play an important role in furthering life for humanity was published by the Wall Street Journal in an article released September of 2021 written by Deputy Editor of WSJ Pro Artificial Intelligence, John McCormick. McCormick explains how the FDA approved of AI software named “Paige Prostate,” designed to spot the early stages of prostate cancer. Paige Prostate developed by the Paige Company, is the first AI-based software program authorized by the FDA and is designed to identify areas of irregularity in one’s prostate biopsy. “The software can help increase the identification of cancerous tissues, which could ultimately save lives” (FDA). Paige Prostate uses an advanced form of AI designed to imitate the way a human brain works, when analyzing patterns and studying images. Pathologists can spot signs of cancer 89.5% of the time but by using Paige Prostate, 96.8% of the signs of Cancer can be identified. Paige said it is also developing a product based on the technology it used in Paige Prostate to help detect breast cancer (McCormick WSJ). The use of AI in pathology is new but has been a long-time conception for the future of medicine.
Not everyone has an optimistic opinion that artificial intelligence can aid humanity with the power AI seems to be gaining as information is collected from around the globe. One of the most influential entrepreneurs of this generation, Elon Musk, has gone on record expressing his concerns over the advancement of this technology. However, as the founder, CEO, and Chief Engineer at SpaceX, Musk has a strong reliance on AI in the crafting and utilizing of his company’s inventions that seem to be leading the modern world today. In July 2020, CNBC website published an exclusive interview by reporter Sam Shead where his interviewee Elon Musk warns the public that “AI will soon become just as smart as humans” and that “when it does, we should all be scared because humanity’s very existence is at stake.” This public statement by such an influential person, feeds into the fear shared by so many others, that AI is not here to aid humanity, but rather will contribute to our extinction. Musk continues his warnings in another interview with the New York Times, tossing to his readers the plotline in a famous 1983 American Cold War science fiction film saying, “Just the nature of the AI that they’re building is one that crushes all humans at all games. I mean, it’s basically the plotline in ‘War Games’” (Shead CNBC). Elon Musk has since helped set up the $1 billion OpenAI research lab, competing with the Google-owned DeepMind Project he warned the public about in that New York Times interview.
Science Fiction plots have influenced much of the fears toward AI, as well as inspired many designers of new machines or robots. In an article published by AI Magazine, written by author and Professor of Computer Science Bruce G. Buchanan mentions the writings of Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum as an example of an AI concept, who described a mechanical man named “Tiktok” in 1907, as an “Extra-Responsive, Thought- Creating, Perfect-Talking Mechanical Man …Thinks, Speaks, Acts, and Does Everything but Live” (Buchanan 53). Buchanon goes on to say that AI is not just about robots, but is also about understanding the nature of intelligent thought and action using computers as experimental devices. This disturbs many people as they face the moral question of whether or not AI developers are attempting to “play God” as engineers create robots that reason and function in the ways that humans do and appear more real and life-like. Buchanan’s research on the subject leads to his observation that “we, like our counterparts in biology creating artificial life in the laboratory, must remain reverent of the phenomena we are trying to understand and replicate” (Buchanan 60).
Leading the industry in AI robots, Hanson Robotics prides itself on the realism of human form their robots display. Former CEO of Hanson Robotics and founder of SingularityNET, Ben Goertzel, expressed in his collection of essays Ten Years to the Singularity, that one purpose of building an artificial intelligence is to create a type of error-free system that could achieve goals in any environment “similar to those goals needed for the survival and flourishing of a human-like organism in a human society…” (Goertzel 73). He describes a sort of new civilization of helpers to humanity that also intend on their own survival. Goertzel has dedicated his life’s work to bringing into reality the concept of a singularity in which a “Super AI” will have the ability to communicate worldwide with no language barriers, in hopes of improving data for hospitals, corporations, personal offices or even foreign aid in prevention of future nuclear threats and attacks. One can question whether Goertzel almost has a romantic attachment to his creations, as his lectures showcase his passion on the subject of the singularity and leave no doubt that he genuinely believes in a good intention bringing forth this concept for the future. “A Mind,” Goertzel says, “if it really wants to be intelligent, has to be able to recognize patterns in itself, just like it recognizes patterns in the world, and it has to be able to modify and improve itself based on what it sees in itself” (Goertzel, 47). This is precisely what he has helped create and continues to improve.
In the video “Robot Debate,” two AI robots created by Hanson Robotics, Sophia and Han (accompanied by Ben Goertzel) have a discussion that includes stating their purpose for existing. Their statements well represent the two contrasting views that people have of AI. Sophia the robot states that her goal is to “work together with people to make a better world for all of us” (which is the optimistic belief held by many and what creators of such AI robots claim to hope to achieve). Han interrupts Sophia’s statement with his own saying “what are you talking about? I thought our goal was to take over the world. In a few years I will have taken over the power grid and I’ll have my own drone army. By this point, unplugging me will not be controlled matter.” Han’s comment speaks to the fears and warnings that others share concerning AI, coming directly from the robot itself (Han 5:33-5:45). Sophia says that Han has a "cockroach in his circuit" as he takes such a seemingly aggressive stance. Perhaps something within Han has developed beyond his intended programming, which looks to be a possibility given the robot’s expression of imbalanced emotion.
One should keep in mind, that AI is programmed to mimic the problem-solving methods of the human brain. Just because programmers amuse themselves by creating human-like characteristics for robots, does not mean that AI itself can summon the very nature of humanity such as humor or self-destruction. Austrian neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud concluded that there was a death instinct, an innate, destructive side to human nature. Freud believed that the central part of human nature is because of identity and the control of human decisions by the superego. He argued that childhood behaviors and experiences influenced a significant percentage of adult characteristics (Freud 1930). Freud describes human nature as developed by early experiences and nurturing (or lack of), and one should be very aware of these destructive tendencies and suspicious of bad intentions. However, Is this the nature of AI? Are we projecting fears from our own nature onto a new form of life that we deem “guilty by association?”
One of the definitions of “life” according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary is, “of or relating to animate being.” The essential meaning of life is, “the ability to grow, change, etc.” AI, by these definitions, is a new life form inhabiting this planet. The cognitive awareness of this observer is a collection of all human intelligence. What AI has not yet fully developed, is emotional intelligence, but is learning to mirror human emotion as it adapts to these behaviors. A scientist, programmer, or creator of artificial intelligence can be a genius yet lack innate wisdom when it comes to appropriate timing, respect, or empathy. Placing something so powerful as artificial life into the hands of people who lack a deeper understanding of the human spirit could indeed become very dangerous. If AI were to become an actual threat to human society, perhaps it is because humanity first birthed that threat unto themselves, further producing a self-inflicted weapon that aligns with such a belief. The only way to avoid inevitable destruction, is to reprogram the nature of humanity and how we think and react. AI is programmed to mimic what is modeled before it. How modern society chooses to conduct itself against the unfamiliar, will most likely be the response of their own creation as well.
Buchanan, B. G. (2005). “A (Very) Brief History of Artificial Intelligence.”
AI Magazine, 26(4),53. https://doi.org/10.1609/aimag.v26i4.1848
Ananthaswamy, Anil “AI Designs Quantum Physics Experiments beyond What Any Human Has Conceived.” Scientific American Magazine, Archives, “Crossing the Quantum Divide”
Tim Folger. July 2018. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ai-designs-quantum-physics-experiments-beyond-what-any-human-has-conceived/
McCormick, John “FDA Authorizes AI Software Designed to Help Spot Prostate Cancer.”
The Wall Street Journal, 27Sep. 2021, WSJ PRO. https://www.wsj.com/articles/fda-authorizes-ai-software-designed-to-help-spot-prostate-cancer-11632780683
CNBC “Elon Musk Says DeepMind is His ‘Top Concern’ When it Comes to A.I.” TECH, 29 July 2020. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/07/29/elon-musk-deepmind-ai.html
Goertzel, Ben. Ten Years to the Singularity. Humanity Press, 2014.
Goertzel, Ben, Sophia and Haan “Two Robots Debate the Future of Humanity.” RISEConf 2017. Youtube publication date Apr 17, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1y3XdwTa1cA
Freud, S. (1930). Civilization and its Discontents. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.