Artificial intelligence can be a wonderful thing in as far as it goes, in as much as it can do, and in as much as we allow it to do, provided we are careful in as far as it goes, in as much as it can do, and in as much as we allow it to do. Because it is constantly evolving, those dynamics are constantly changing and we therefore must be ever alert. How we chose to handle AI yesterday is different from today, and will be different from tomorrow. Nonetheless, it is something to which we must pay close attention due to its power and its weakness.
AI is powerful because–under the right circumstances–it can replicate human thought about situations that must be processed and it can do this quick and easy. On the other hand, AI has intrinsic weaknesses due to its obvious lack of human qualities such as empathy, consciousness, judgment, and free will. It is these weaknesses that are both frustrating and even dangerous.
Nothing irritates me more than receiving a phone call from a computer program that wants me to believe I am talking to Susan who then tries to have a normal conversation with me about a credit card opportunity. Sometimes just for the fun of it I will immediately toggle up my higher order thinking skills and deliver an answer to Susan’s question that is significantly more complex than that for which she was programmed. In that instance, her response proves that she has failed the Turing test and I have found a spot of joy in “conquering” AI, once again demonstrating that my own brain still has something over the latest configurations of silicon and code.
AI is in principle an absolutely amazing and powerful concept. Producing AI to the level that it perfectly mimics human thought may very well be impossible. You see (and now I am truly speaking human to human), AI is an oxymoron. If something is artificial, then it is not authentically intelligent. If something is authentically intelligent, then it is not artificial. Never forget this.
At the end of his book, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2010), Nicholas Carr cautions never to lose the essential human perspective and role in our increasingly technological world:
“The seductions of technology are hard to resist, and in our age of instant information the benefits of speed and efficiency can seem unalloyed, their desirability beyond debate. But I continue to hold out hope that we won’t go gently into the future our computer engineers and software programmers are scripting for us. Even if we don’t heed Weizenbaum’s words [‘as we grow more accustomed to and dependent on our computers we will be tempted to entrust to them tasks that demand wisdom’], we owe it to ourselves to consider them, to be attentive to what we stand to lose. How sad it would be, particularly when it comes to the nurturing of our children’s minds, if we were to accept without question the idea that ‘human elements’ are outmoded and dispensable.” (p. 224)