Elon Musk is in the news again, though this time it's not in reference to his space activities or new-fangled cars, but rather, in reference to his thoughts on the possibilities and implications of artificial intelligence. Consider this report from The Sydney Morning Herald (kindly shared by Mr. S.D.):
Here's the heart of it:
"In an hour-long interview for MIT, which held its Centennial Symposium last week, Musk opened himself up to the audience for questions. Most of the questions were about space travel, but one audience member asked Musk for his thoughts on artificial intelligence, and that's when things got a bit spooky.
"'I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence,' said Musk, the expression on his face suddenly turning very serious. 'If I were to guess like what our biggest existential threat is, it's probably that. So we need to be very careful with the artificial intelligence. There should be some regulatory oversight maybe at the national and international level, just to make sure that we don't do something very foolish.'
"Sounds reasonable. Prudent even. A generally conservative approach to a potential technological issue facing our world in the future. Wise words.
"'With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon," said Musk. "In all those stories where there's the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it's like, 'Yeah, he's sure he can control the demon.' Doesn't work out.'
Despite the rather sneering tone of the Sydney Morning Herald in the last line quoted above, and the implicit materialist cosmology that it possibly disguises, Musk may have a point.
So before I get to my daily dose of high octane speculation, let me clarify my own position: I am not, and have never been a materialist, that is to say, I place a priority on the Mind, on the ideal, and make a clear distinction between mind and brain. But I'm not, by the same token, a dualist or epiphenomenalist in that I think there is a complex set of feedback loops between the two (mind and brain); both can, and do, influence each other. Finally, as I've said on numerous occasions, I think to a certain extent that the Mind, or Personhood, or individual personality - whatever one wishes to call it - is, so to speak, transduced into the material world by the unique brain/DNA combination to a certain extent. I do not mean this as a complete explanation discounting an individuals history, environment, and social factors, but merely as a kind of hypothesis by which to view the relationships. In this respect, I've occasionally stated my hypthesis that individual consciousness is fundamentally a non-local (to use the physics expression) phenomenon.
So now we get to Elon Musk, and I have to say, I agree with him, and, in fact, I have raised similar concerns in the various members' vidchats on this website. The basic argument, or rather, thought, runs something like this: (1) if an individual consciousness or personality is transduced by a brain via a vast neural net then (2) the possibility that large computer networks with massive parallelism might conceivably do the same. A variation on this theme is that some sort of "group consciousness" might result from all the individual human inputs on such a network, from everything from "searches" to various electronic communications. In fact, in science fiction author Robert Heinlein's novel The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, a computer with exactly this massive parallel processing functional capability does indeed "wake up." The prospects would seem to rise if, for example, quantum computing were ever to become a reality.
Now recall my hypothesis: these sorts of things do not create an individual consciousness, but rather, "transduce" it, or "pull it in" like a radio receiver pulls signals from the aether if they are tuned to them. What Musk seems to be suggesting is that a similar phenomenon might occur in artificial intelligence; something might be "transduced" or "pulled in." It is a sobering thought, for of course, in the Old Testament book of Ezekiel, Lucifer himself, the quintessential symbol of demonic evil, is described in terms less applicable to life, and more applicable to a machine, with crystals, membranes, and pipes: "Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the emerald, and the carbuncle, and gold: the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created."(Exekiel 28:13).
Granted, Mr. Musk's is a rather provocative view, but he is not alone in thinking it. I for one am in fact rather grateful that someone in his position had the courage to do so.
See you on the flip side.