THE TRANSHUMANIST SCRAPBOOK: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AND THE ...October 26, 2015
If you've been following the artificial intelligence story and meme, then this recent story and its implications may interest you(this article was shared by Ms. M.W.):
For our "high octane speculation" purposes here, the central story is contained in the very first paragraph:
A newly founded artificial intelligence lab, called Vicarious, wants to build the world’s first, unified artificial intelligence that can match human intelligence. This is not the first time we’ve heard companies or universities trumpet such ambitious goals, but considering who’s backing the project I can only entertain the possibility Vicarious might just do it. Entrepreneurs with great vision and a track record of backing successful companies have all hopped aboard, like Elon Musk (SpaceX, Tesla), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Peter Thiel (Paypal, founder of venture capital and hedge funds worth billions), Jerry Yang (Yahoo! founder), Jeff Bezos (Amazon founder) and more.
What intrigued me here were the twin implications of the monied private backers of the project, to the name itself: Vicarious. A "vicar" of course is a "stand-in", a representative someone else, an ambassador, if one will, such as a local parish vicar. The disturbing use of the term stems from its other implication: a "substitute." A more disturbing implication is that the project is more or less in completely private hands, a development which, if successful, would put the technology and its immense power into the hands of a private group. From the standpoint of the evolution and history of institutions of human power and authority, this would be an unprecedented development, tantamont to the creation of a technology empowering such groups with their own "sovereignty"...
... if the technology does not turn on them and devour them. One is reminded of Isaac Asimov's solution to this dilemma with his "three laws of robotics" from his celebrated I, Robot novel.
But there's also a philosophical catch, an underlying assumption, that itself may in time be overturned by such research itself, and it's this:
The main challenge however lies in holes in our fundamental understanding of how the human brain works, something that’s out of Vicarious’ hands. So, the company depends on research elsewhere which might better explain how synapses join together to give rise to thought, or how a given atomic arrangement (matter) gives rise to self-awareness. So far, the best thing Vicarious has to show is a ReCaptcha solver – the kind used by websites all over the internet to filter out robots from humans. There’s more to humans than interpreting annoying faded text in boxes, though. Vicarious has its work cut out, but this is definitely something worth following. They seem very motivated. (Emphasis added)
This is, of course, the "materialist" assumption, that consciousness is the result of certain neurological arrangements and electro-chemical processes. So one may indulge in some high octane speculation here: what if AI research overturns this assumption in some fundamental manner, and discovers that such processes and arrangements do not create consciousness, but rather, localize what is essentially an immaterial and non-local phenomenon, localizing it as a kind of "local structural potential"? IN that instance, what sort of consciousness would be "summoned" or, to stretch the language a bit, perhaps even "invoked"?
And there's a profound question for jurisprudence and philosophy lurking in the wings here as well: would such an AI be accorded the protections of law? Would it be recognized as a person? After all, a case could be made - a much stronger one in fact - that it should be accorded such protections if corporations can be afforded the status. And as for the philosophical questions, does unplugging it constitute murder(if the aforesaid legal protections are granted)? And what happens when it's plugged back in again? Is that the same person? Or a reincarnation of it?
The bottom line here is that AI poses significant questions for the evolution and institutions of human power and authority, and perhaps we need to devote as much money to real studies and real discussions (not the fake discussions with predetermined outcomes that suffuse our current culture) of this problem.
See you on the flip side...