Monday, August 12, 2019

With A.I. We Will be the Ants That Get Stepped On

Source: Service Plan

Artificial Intelligence: it will kill us | Jay Tuck | TEDxHamburgSalon 

Mankind's biggest challenge: Artificial Intelligence

Unmerklich drängt sich intelligente Software immer tiefer in unser Leben. Der Erfolgsautor und US-Sicherheitsexperte Jay Tuck warnt: Wer nicht von einem Technologie-Tsunami weggespült werden will, muss das Potenzial von KI rechtzeitig erkennen und adaptieren – ganz gleich, ob Einzelperson oder Unternehmen. Ein Weckruf.


Whenever we gaze at the vastness of the ocean from the seashore, or into the depths of the cosmos at night, we feel small and insignificant. The crashing waves and starry skies help us to get a perspective on our life as humans and find our place as tiny, transient beings in the great scheme of things. In a conversation with my friend Thomas, we chatted about similar feelings. But it wasn't in relation to the ocean or the cosmos. We talked about the infinite expanses of the internet, about the combined knowledge of humanity as a whole. We saw ourselves standing on the shore of a virtually endless sea of information. Where we understand so little. Thomas is an up-to-date person, not a Luddite by any stretch of the imagination. He is aware of the benefits of the modern internet world and liberally makes the most of them. But he is scared by them too. It's all going too fast for him, far too fast. And he knows that the speed of acceleration is on course to increase. He believes that the speed – and size – of the internet world is a cause for concern. He thinks it will uproot us as individuals.

Times are changing. They are changing us. A lot of people feel cut off from their familiar past. The city centres they grew up in are being demolished, the TV greats of yesteryear replaced by YouTube stars and reality personalities. In schools, the basic rules of language are being changed. Good grammar is being replaced by abbreviated textspeak. For the youth of today, handwriting and typewriters are foreign concepts. Everything – from music and fashion to morals – is undergoing a transformation. The rug that we once crawled on as a small child is being ripped out from under our feet. A lot of people these days feel stranded, cut off from their past, as if they have been swept away by a technology tsunami. Thomas is a man of knowledge, but sees his self-image as being questioned. During his school and university years, he acquired a sizeable amount of general knowledge. And learnt that it was a valuable commodity.

But in the present day he has noticed that his general knowledge is now only a tiny fragment of the global information that every child can effortlessly fish out of the internet. The amount of information available to us virtually is getting bigger by the day, deeper by the hour, more unfathomable by the minute. And the knowledge he learnt at school, or so he feels, is becoming more and more irrelevant. It's also a question of generation.

"Don't trust anyone over 30", a slogan from the 60s movement that also applies to the present day. The internet is the kids' domain. Older people are regularly finding themselves baffled by technology. Updates and downloads, versions and viruses, Bluetooth and back-ups are confusing to them. Even just setting up a new electric alarm clock takes a qualified engineer these days. Or a 14-year-old. And who wants to put their health in the hands of a grey-haired doctor when you consider that half of today's medical knowledge was unknown when the kindly doc graduated with his degree? Of course, we know that progress is associated with huge advantages. For the near future we will be promised some wonderful things as far as artificial intelligence is concerned – unlimited energy, effective environmental protection, a cure against Alzheimer's, Parkinson’s disease and possibly even cancer. Some people even believe that a future agricultural sector could produce enough food for the world’s entire population. And AI would ensure its fair distribution.

But the objections of my friend Thomas are legitimate. The participation options for the population are decreasing. Many of us don't even understand what is going on around us. We are spectators in a spectacle that is being shaped by an invisible automated being. Robotic software that was written by other robots, is becoming increasingly sophisticated, complicated, and more and more difficult to comprehend. And so, the circle of people who possess the specialist knowledge and responsibility in these highly complex fields is becoming smaller and smaller. All the important decisions are meanwhile being made by an elite. Or the artificial intelligence itself.


For thousands of years, humans have been at the top of the food chain. We see ourselves as the final apex of evolution.And we believe it is our rightful place. That's what evolutionary theorist Charles Darwin taught us anyway. Or at least that’s how we chose to interpret it.

According to his observations and studies on nature's laws, the species that produce large numbers of offspring, that are more adept at escaping their enemies and that can build up a higher resistance against disease are the most likely to survive. But what chances do we have? Humans are egocentric beings who believe everything just revolves around them. We personify things so they are easier to understand. We want to understand them better. That's why we have given human traits to animals, the gods and forces of nature. We give our dog a cute name and teach it to give us a paw, personalise next hurricane with a human name and say that the gods act on human motives. Even in the Bible, mankind is compared to God:

"And God created man in his own image" (First Book of Moses, Genesis 1:27).

This habit of attributing human traits to everything in the universe has a name: anthropomorphism. And so we believe that our cognitive skills are unique, that only we possess the task of recognising patterns in chaos, understanding the universe and bringing order to the grand scheme of things. But in view of the explosive development of artificial intelligence, we need to slowly comprehend that computers are more than capable of all this. They are the better world chess champion, the better drone pilot, perhaps soon even the better heart surgeon. They have already mastered many tasks in our society. Better than we humans do, even including managerial functions.

But it remains questionable whether it makes sense for us to contravene Darwin's law and create a being that is superior to us in many respects. As soon as humans are no longer alone with their cognitive skills, where machines are already superior to us, according to Darwin they will be above humans, possibly way above. One day we might become for artificial intelligence what pet cats or goldfish are for us today.

Like when Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak asked: "Will we be gods, will we be pets, or will we be the ants that get stepped on?"

We would certainly no longer represent the apex of the evolutionary process. Evolution will carry on without us. Such thoughts have a paralysing effect on a lot of people. They are understanding less and less of a technological environment that is permeating deeper and deeper into their lives.


It could be that artificial intelligence remains our friend and helper for a long time to come. It could also one day help us disrupt the ageing process and make people live forever. Perhaps we’ll find ways, as Google-visionary Ray Kurzweil believes, to upload human consciousness into computer chips and therefore escape our mortal shell.

But artificial intelligence could also turn against us. And wipe us out. We just don't know. And it's not up to us to decide.

Every day we are giving away more and more control over our lives. It's just so convenient. Remember a telephone number? Why should we? It's already saved in our phones. The quickest route to the coast? That's the job of our sat-nav. Need to book a flight to the Dom Rep? We just ask our travel app. Looking for something to read? Let’s see what recommendations Amazon has for me. We even chat to Siri, Apple's answer to the personal assistant, which is also operated by artificial intelligence. AI has become a trusted friend. It knows us from our choice of search terms, our purchasing behaviour and our current facial expression. We ask it for advice on running routes, lasagne or our love life. AI lives in our cars and watches, in television sets and sat-navs, running shoes and lawnmowers. We let it park our cars for us. In our bodies it regulates our heartbeat and insulin level. Each electronic island stores a small core of intelligence that is capable of learning. Every core seeks contact via the network with other cores to borrow computing power, collect data and exchange software. Unnoticed, the cores navigate their way through the internet and establish interconnections. With every interlinking, the whole thing becomes more knowledgeable and more intelligent. And the architects of AI know that their children are already beyond their control.


We are giving more and more responsibility to smart systems. And they're learning more each day. They are becoming faster, more efficient and more intelligent. What we are operating – pretty much nerve cell by nerve cell – is the assembly of a superior intelligence. Its intelligence lies in countless small IT nodes that are connected to each other in different ways. Together they form – like the cluster of neurones in a brain – an intelligence. The more computers are networked, the more intelligent the overall system will be. A lot of modules are also connected with high-performance central computers via the internet, which – as in the case of Google – experiment with advanced artificial intelligence.

Please got to Service Plan to read the entire article.


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