AI: a Beginning of the End?
Many years ago, while working with a computer operating with miniature nixie tubes, a drum memory and requiring a patch board to be configured for printing (I think it was a PDP machine) I wrote a poem prophesizing the future. At the time I enjoyed writing verse and so it is in that form that my prognosis is presented. It may not be up to the level of Nostradamus but, in re-reading it recently, I noticed how well the early verses predicted what has come to pass. The latter verses therefor may contain a prognosis of things to come.
The danger I foresaw was that our dependence on computers will debilitate our human role in steering the course of events and may even expose us to dominance by intelligent machines. Humans are prone to the pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of responsibility, characteristics which could allow Artificial Intelligence (AI) to take charge of our future. My concern is that AI machines will develop their own priorities and pursue them, disregarding our wishes. They may even be steered to this end with our consent.
Recent reports on progress in the application of AI (Artificial Intelligence) indicate that we now have programs which can determine certain trends or phenomena by examining vast data sets available on the net and elsewhere. For example, we read that AI programs can recognize homosexuals by their facial features, with more than 90% confidence, using en-face pictures such as those used in passports. This is frightening.
We are all able to identify ethnic origins and other characteristics of individuals with some level of certainty from facial features. We can even aspire to identify likeable and unpleasant people by their looks. These various “prejudices” are loudly condemned by many but we are all prone to such pre-judgements when we encounter strangers. Now computers can do it even better.
Imagine then, a world where computers can reliably identify potential criminals, superior intellects, liars, violent personalities, cheaters, various diseases, pathologies of all sorts. It would let us categorize everyone and stigmatize them for life. Identity cards would surely contain this information in some encoded form accessible only to “authorized” agencies; but we all know how secure such secrets are.
People would delight in hiring certified hard workers and honest lawyers. The police could give emphasis to tracking the criminally-inclined. Couples could select partners faultlessly, and so on. But what about those assigned to undesirable categories for perfectly proper reasons, namely according to analyses of their facial by AI machines? All of us would be revealed for who we are, beyond even the capabilities of our own self-awareness. How do you think this would affect individuals?
Here is a thought: will we accept who we and those around us are, according to AI analysis? Will we accept all computer advice, knowing that it is well founded? How far will we let computers formulate social policies that shape our societies, if we know AI is better informed and more objective than we are? And if we submit to its wisdom, what will become of us?
In principle, AI-governed societies would be better managed than those governed by humans with our faults and preferences and passions. But to what end would they be managed? Can we be sure that computers would manage our societies in a way that optimizes human goals, such as seeking more understanding of the universe, of who we are, of the enduring search for our origins?
Without a worthy goal for humanity’s sake, computers will simply optimize whatever they are told and disregard human wishes as a problem in achieving perfection. That could be tragic. It is not too soon to begin to consider how to shape the uses of AI so that its capabilities do not become malign. Programs in AI have to be imbued with a morality, a goal orientation that furthers human aims. They must not be allowed to formulate their own goals and morals.
Below is my poem from long ago that considers these issues and comes to a less than reassuring conclusion. But then, as mentioned in previous blogs, perhaps we are destined to give life to inorganic intelligence and become just another organic life form in a universe populated by inorganic civilizations. We and other organic life forms may be the creators of dominant, intelligent, inorganic beings; such beings could not arise from nature without our help.
(Some wording in the poem has been changed from that in the original to conform to modern terminology and sentiment. In particular, what I originally called “learning machines” is now AI, with appropriate changes to follow.)
The joy in the computer room was a thing to behold.
For today, for the first time, ’twas shown
That an AI machine could be programmed in checkers
And Olsen, a Master, was now overthrown.
Then before very long, and with novel design,
They had trained it to brilliance in chess,
And one day in front of a crowd at the Center,
Karpinski, the Master, ended up in a mess.
Then came rapid advances in speed and precision
Which encouraged much lofty debate
And many a brilliant young man would insist
That computers should manage all matters of state.
This idea was tried; of success there’s no doubt.
Even those who wrote software were dazed,
For computer AI made its country so rich
That the rest of the world was amazed.
Furthermore, its decisions were so deep and so right
That a new cry arose in the land.
There were now those who said; “What computers decide
Must be used to give justice a hand.”
The advancements in justice were a stunning success,
Making tales of the past but bad dreams
And wherever corruption and privilege had reigned,
Now pronouncements of courts were divorced from such schemes.
It was then that the average man on the street
Was encouraged to come out and ask:
“Since it’s clear that AI is impartial and just,
We should charge them with every task.
At this there was much indignation aroused.
Lawyers rose up and were shot in the streets.
There were even some others who questioned this change,
But all such dissentions ended up as just tweets.
In double-quick time, ComParl was established;
The land was now ruled by pure fact.
It was good now, to know, that whatever was done
Was done for a reason, not because of an Act.
The simple and honest form of this rule
Was now and then marred by a yen
To see something done that was slightly wrong
But to say so, one risked being thrown in the Pen.
Then ComParl decided, after giving much thought,
That human ambitions are not of sound mind;
And far better plans for the welfare of all
Should apply henceforth to all of mankind.
First ComParl deemed that, since people think badly,
They must not interfere with ComParl decisions.
And second, it deemed, that since people cause problems,
They’ll be subject to novel provisions.
The dregs of society were first on the list.
They were judged to be stupid and poor.
So to save the state time and expenses involved
They were sent to a camp; to what end, we’re not sure.
The soundness of this socionomic decision
Was made clear to the next lower station
When they were accused of ambition and greed
And they too were consigned to remediation.
The remaining few people, just the cream of the crop,
Felt proud and much pleased by this shedding of dross.
When invited by ComParl to an evening of GO
They all went, they all lost, and paid dear for their loss.
Memo to ComParl File
The perfect game has been played
And the program stored away.
There is no room for improvement.
There is no one left to play.
This topic and other ideas are examined in my book “The Game Must Go On” available on Amazon.com. Other pertinent thoughts about the future are presented in a series of books listed below under the general title The Zamora Texts also on Amazon.com.
Amazon.com: Zamora Texts: The Year 9000: How We Got Here. Bohdan W. Wojciechowski. Link: amzn.to/1Xt6raE
Amazon.com: Zamora Texts: The Regression: Was this our Last Social Disaster? Bohdan W. Wojciechowski. Link: amzn.to/1U4Vgas
Amazon.com: Zamora Texts: Space Exploration: Are We Alone? Bohdan W. Wojciechowski. Link: amzn.to/1nLSisM
Amazon.com: Zamora Texts: A Chronicle of Martian Colonization: Terraforming a Planet. Bohdan W. Wojciechowski. Link: amzn.to/1RjnE8f
Amazon.com: Zamora texts: Region of Luna. Bohdan W. Wojciechowski. Link: amzn.to/1pm6hGX
Amazon.com: Zamora Texts: Democracies: Their Fall and Revival. Bohdan W. Wojciechowski. LINK: amzn.to/1Rkwz2M
Amazon.com: Zamora Texts: Human Societies: Our Search for an Organized World. Bohdan W. Wojciechowski. Link: amzn.to/1Rkws7j
Amazon.com: Bohdan W. Wojciechowski: Biography, Kindle Books, Blog. Link: amzn.to/1nLTtbP
Amazon.com: Zamora Texts. Bohdan W. Wojciechowski. Link: amzn.to/1Pal6By