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  • Writer's pictureDean Anthony Gratton

Artificial Intelligence: The Transcendence Effect

In last month’s column, “Artificial intelligence: I think therefore I am?,” I felt I only scratched the surface of what we understand to be artificial intelligence (AI) and, in this month’s post, I want to expand my thoughts a little further.

How to build technology for the future

So, last month, I suggested that what we understand today as “AI” is nothing more than clever programming and smart technology and, I dare say, that’s largely true, despite others suggesting otherwise. We don’t have thinking machines, since software engineers have programmed our technology to behave in a pre-determined manner, along with predefined behaviors and outcomes.

You may recall, over a bottle of red, I presented the philosophical conjecture provided by René Descartes and the Scottish philosopher George Campbell’s work surrounding their rationale regarding the separation of the mind and body. I firmly believe that their “dualism” perspective is exactly what we need to achieve with “”full” AI or artificial general intelligence (AGI). With this in mind (no pun intended), if we look at the possible constitution of a robot, of some kind, we expect the mechanical gubbins to ultimately be controlled by a brain (or mind). I’m using the human physiological belief and the Cartesianism view here as to how we might build such technology in the future, although I do still question this possibility.

How to create an intelligent entity

I even scoffed, last month, at existing technology, where the so-called walking robots and dogs don’t provide the fluidity that we humans can – it’s so seamless and effortless for us to lift ourselves up and walk, yet I do acknowledge the complexity in replicating or mimicking human physiology. I also suggested that playing chess, driving cars and so on, for me, isn’t what’s understood to be AI and that having a conversation with Alexa is often strained and incredibly frustrating because human language is so complex. We add a level of uncertainty that only humans can decipher and interpret correctly – well, sometimes, we do! In fact, I touched up on this in a previous column, “Introducing the holographic virtual assistant” in January 2018, which might indeed become a precursor to the full-on humanized robot.

So, I can only imagine the sheer ingenuity that’s needed to create something that’s mechanically, humanly perfect and, alas, as I mentioned previously, we are generations away from this becoming a reality. Now, this human mind thing – our brain! I see the brain and mind, as two separate things: First, the brain is an organ, which operates our complex nervous system; whereas the mind is, in essence, our consciousness; our unique ability to perceive, imagine, think, reason and so on. While we might understand, to some extent, its biological makeup, we have yet to truly understand how the mind exists!

Using terms to explain things away

Indeed, we might have structure in our thinking, akin to a machine; following rules and procedures with expected outcomes and whatnot, but how do we create and where does that spontaneity come from? You know, that Eureka moment of solving complex problems, creating music or writing a bestselling book. The mind-sets of Einstein, Hawking and the like created their own legacies, which will be remembered forever. We also have the wired brain of Ted Bundy, for example, which continues to baffle both psychologists and neurologists, since I’m sure they wonder what kind of synaptic schematic made him do the things he did.

The human mind is a complex entity and, of course, there are some who suggest that the mind is in fact the human soul, but often we can all be guilty of providing such conjecture when we clearly don’t understand something and use such terms to explain things away. I still don’t understand what we really want from AI and I’m confident that, as Stephen Hawking said in his interview, “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.

Ending the human race

We build robots and similar mechanical devices to take away the human-mundaneness from factory lines, where such technology provides better accuracy and reliability; we develop smart sensors to let us know about when might be the best time to plant our seeds and, likewise, we have sensors that predict weather, which allow us to warn the public in advance about heatwaves or floods. We’ve also developed medical devices that can detect breast cancer in patients that has a greater success rate than a practitioner seeing the same images (Fighting breast cancer with AI early detection, Dr. Sarah-Jayne Gratton). Industry mistakenly call this AI, yet I call it clever programming and smart technology!

I do believe it’s possible to use Cartesianism’s “dualism,” for example, as a template, of sorts, where on one hand you have the mechanical engineered humanoid, along with synthetics and whatnot and, then you introduce or “upload” the mind (Transcendence-esque) although I’m not entirely confident that this can be done at this time; however, from a theoretical standpoint, it sounds plausible, since there’s existing research surrounding what’s called transhumanism or humanity+ (H+)! It’s a philosophy that promotes the transformation of the human condition with technologies which, in turn, aim to enhance both human intellect and physiology.

Until next time …

In all honesty, I’m not sure if developing thinking humanoids can ever be achieved in the way that’s portrayed in so many movies. The portrayal of an independent-thinking machine or robot that has the autonomy to make decisions for itself – I actually don’t think it’s possible! After all, do we want to rob humanity of its uniqueness? Perhaps, we should forego our mission and just revel in the science fiction fantasy of movies since, as I again echo from last month’s column, “Be careful what you wish for!”

I offer one last throw-away thought: If we ever conceivably create an independent thinking machine that can not only assert itself and is also capable of questioning its own existence, is it then still AI

So, this is where your “AI psychologist” Dr. G signs off.

Originally published in Technically Speaking.


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a technology influencer, analyst & futurist 

I dispel the rumours, gossip and hype surrounding new technology

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