The possibility of Artificial Intelligence bringing about an Apocalypse
In 1946 the first digital computer, the ENIAC, was completed. Now, in 2015, open surgeries such as throat cancer surgeries are being carried out by robots. With just 69 years parting these “landmarks” it is clear that technology has made quite an extraordinary leap. This advancement has led to the creation of robots and machines which are, in some aspects, superior to humans. On the other hand, the constant progression and improvement of technology has some academics, such as Stephen Hawking, concerned: that a robot uprising will bring about an apocalypse where A.I. will take charge and steer the future.
Amongst the many early works concerning A.I. was the influential Turing Test which remains relevant to this day. Proposed by Alan Turing in 1950, The Turing test was designed to provide a clear definition of a fully-functioning intelligence. If the human interrogator is not able to determine whether the responses to the set of questions asked came from a computer or a person, the computer “passes” the test (Russel and Norvig, 2009, p.3).
The creation of computers was what instigated an attempt to create machines that are able to simulate human thought, therefore, if these machines are to be given the capability to think like a human, some characteristics of the human brain have to be present (Hofstadter, 1979, p.343). With the help of Neuroscience (the study of the brain and the nervous system) we have gathered sufficient data about how our brain works. According to Haykin (1994, p.23) the brain is a ‘highly complex, nonlinear, and parallel computer’ which executes certain computations at a much higher rate than which is the fastest digital computer. What enables the brain to do this is its systematic way of organising its structural elements, otherwise known as neurons, to perform said computations rapidly. Inspired by this, a set of artificial neurons are interconnected to create an Artificial Neural Network which are then implemented in a device by using electronic apparatus. As Haykin (1994, p.24) expresses, that machine then becomes a Neural Network which is purposefully designed to represent the manner in which the brain performs particular tasks or functions.
Creating a machine which could interact and communicate with a person’s thoughts has been humanity’s fantasy for many years. Recent advances in cognitive neuroscience and brain imaging technologies have provided us with the information to do just that. Researchers have used these newly discovered technologies to build Brain Computer Interfaces (BCI) which allow the user to manipulate an external mechanical device via a communication device that reads brain activity. The system’s ability to function with thoughts alone highly benefits those who have suffered from neuromuscular injuries and have little or no power over their muscular activity (Nijholt and Tan, 2010, p.4).
With a great deal of research being carried out technology is advancing swiftly and creating certain AI (Artifical Intelligence) products which are troubling scientists, philosophers and tech billionaires globally. In an article concerning the coming of an apocalypse features a Swedish philosopher, Nick Bostrom, founder of the Future of Humanity Institute, compared these powerful technologies to a “loaded pistol” in the hands of a child and that we are “giving ourselves access to technologies that should really have a higher maturity level” (McBain, 2014). The well known British physicist Stephen Hawking has also shared his fears about the future of AI, which stirred debate amongst others. He believes that the “development of artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race” (Sunday Express, 2015) OR (Dassanayake, 2015). Although some academics, such as Jean-Gabriel Ganascia, disagree and consider Hawking’s warning to be an exaggeration, Hawking joined forces with Elon Musk and signed an open letter, which warns us of a dark future if intelligent machines are not safeguarded (Zolfagharifard, 2015).
The idea of AI surpassing and threatening mankind’s extinction has long been the key theme in films and fictional novels. An example is the 2004 film adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s ‘I Robot’ (1950) directed by Alex Proyas in which the robots have to follow three rules: A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm; A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law; A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws (Asimov, 1950, p.26). The film shows robots rebelling against the humans regardless of these rules, after the head of security decides that the humans should be controlled completely in order for the robots to fulfil their directive of making the earth a 100% safe.‘ The Machine Stops’ (Forster, 1909) is another short fictional story, which proposes a dystopian future where the population is living underground with a global machine providing them with everything they require – bodily and spiritually.
Nevertheless, AI machines do not only exist in fictional stories and films. A technology which was released in 2013 set alarm bells ringing for some: Google Glass. Although the concerns are mostly based around privacy invasion, blogger and author Emmet O’Regan seems to believe that these glasses could bring about the Apocalypse. The main theses in his book ‘Unveiling the Apocalypse: Prophecy in Catholic Tradition’ is how the letters www (World Wide Web) translate into the number of the Beast, three sixes (666), in the Hebrew language and how the False Prophet would cause the populace on earth to receive the mark of the Beast and bring about destruction. The material in his book is supplemented in his blog ‘Unveiling the Apocalypse’ which offers pertinent and up-to date information. In one post, O’Regan explains that the mark of the Beast is an adversative parallelism to the Jewish practice of wearing of phylacteries, worn on the forehead which he compares to the modern day mobile phones and the Google Glass.
I propose that a BCI is incorporated into the Google Glasses so that without any input from the user, functions such as taking pictures and sending texts are automated. If, in the future, this BCI is upgraded and given some sort of intelligence to help increase the execution of said functions, the prospect of it being able to reverse the process, aka: send back signals to the users brain may be possible. If computers attempt to take over the world, the BCI’s could then be capable of completely overruling people’s thoughts by sending signals to their brains and controlling their actions. In 1978, Professor Hubert Dreyfus similarly believed that the notion of creating machines that can think was impossible, claiming that “formidable chess-playing computers would remain forever in the realm of fiction”. However, his prediction was eradicated two decades later by IBM’s creation of the Deep Blue computer which defeated world champion, Gary Kasprov at a game of chess (Bringsjord,1998). Unlike Dreyfus, my theory might have to wait a few more decades to be disproved.
With people believing in hypothetical theories, such as the dead coming back to life and destroying civilisation for good, makes the possibility of an AI apocalypse seem more plausible due to the fact that people are aware that technology is advancing and also the ongoing research being carried out by highly intellectual and acclaimed people such as Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and Bill Gates. Although a war against machines is not an imminent one, it is wiser to be aware of the technologies being developed and the threat they pose, rather than stocking preservatives and collecting weapons to shoot the living dead.
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Dassanayake, D. (2015) Bill Gates joins Stephan Hawking in warning Artificial Intelligence is a threat to mankind. Available at: http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/555092/Bill-Gates-Stephen-Hawking-Artificial-Intelligence-AI-threat-mankind (Accessed: 13 April 2015).
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Zolfagharifard, E. (2015) Don’t let AI take out jobs (or kill us): Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk sign open letter warning of a robot uprising. Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2907069/Don-t-let-AI-jobs-kill-Stephen-Hawking-Elon-Musk-sign-open-letter-warning-robot-uprising.html (Accessed: 11 April 2015).