Is The Whole Purpose of Humanity to Launch the Next Phase of Evolution?
My friend and I were talking about artificial intelligence and the vast potential usage of AI in business. As the conversation went on, it was clear that we were moving outside of the realm of business, we were thinking on a much bigger scale: humanity’s possible extinction or immortality.
If you’re not familiar with what artificial intelligence is, in the most plain English possible, it’s basically a computer that has the ability to learn. It may do this by performing a certain action, observing what happens, and then tweaking its hypothesis accordingly and doing this process over and over again. It might also learn by taking in large amounts of data and uncovering patterns in the data and using these patterns to make sophisticated predictions.
Now, this field of study used to be regarded as science fiction, however, with every passing day, what seemed to be just talks of science fiction are becoming reality. There are countless researchers and PhD’s that have dedicated their whole life to this field and they are pushing the frontiers of what is possible every single day.
For example, one of the latest developments from the artificial intelligence community comes from one of Google’s renowned AI researcher Geoffrey Hinton. This development highlighted something called the “capsule network”. I don’t want to get into technical details in this post but the point is that there is consistent research for this field of computer science.
As more and more research comes out, the tasks that artificial intelligent machines can achieve increases. They’re constantly getting more and more capable. For example, Google’s AlphaGo machine beat the world champion, Lee Sedol, in the highly intuitive game of Go with the score of 4 to 1. To top it all off, the AlphaGo computer, which defeated the world champion was recently obliterated by its predecessor DeepMind AI with a score of 100 to 0.
It is very clear that AI machines are starting to flex their muscles and performing certain tasks much better than humans.
“But Sunny, these are just certain tasks, like a game of Go, why are you all riled up about these machines getting good at a game?”
Here’s the reason why: the first ever microprocessor, the Intel 4004, was released in 1971. By the 80s, we already had achieved 32-bit microprocessors. By the 90s, the number of transistors was still exponentially increasing, allowing for even larger computations. By the turn of the century, we had 64-bit microprocessors, allowing for even more instructions. By the 2010s, we have touch screen iPhones that are strong enough to run an artificial intelligent assistant called Siri.
You see how fast things are moving? In nearly just 40 years, we went from the first 4-bit microprocessor to having more computing power in the palm of our hands than all of NASA had when they went to the moon.
Bottom line: Things are moving fast…a bit too fast.
The current state of AI machines are impressive, but they aren’t anything like a human. They can’t think for themselves and move outside of the scope of what they were programmed for. They don’t have the physical motor skills of a human being. It’s easy to think that AI machines are just cool little machines that can beat world champions in games.
Here’s the thing though, just how we went from the first 4-bit microprocessor to extremely powerful computers in our hands in just a span of nearly 40 years, what’s to say that in another 40 years, we will have computers that truly can think for themselves, who do have the physical motor skills similar to a human being.
This is where things can start to get a bit scary.
At the exponential rate that computers are advancing, what’s to say that we are able to “program” consciousness into a computer. Not only are there advances being made in computer science, there are huge leaps being taken by the medical field as well. With more and more information being put out there about the brain and its inner workings, it’s only a matter of time before a part of the brain gets replicated into a computer. Maybe the whole human brain gets replicated.
It is often a dark joke that gets thrown around that it will take many years to get a computer up to pace with an extremely unintelligent human, but only days for that same computer to reach Einstein’s level of intelligence.
What happens when these computers start to think for themselves and absorb so much knowledge and at such a rapid pace that they can make Einstein look stupid? We’re going to look like some dumb little living things running around…just how we view little insects as dumb little things just doing their thing.
It’s like comparing our understanding of concepts such as Fourier transforms or linear algebra to what an ant knows. It’s not even close. The tables might just turn on us if a sentient computer’s rate of learning accelerates just slightly faster than we would like it to and it just takes off.
This exponential increase in technology is what might be the end of humanity. If the AI overlords decide that its best for nature, or whatever things they discover, to wipe out humanity, we will be powerless to their decision and this will mean permanent extinction. However, maybe they will be benevolent beings and help teach and guide us to get our understanding of the world to their level. No one knows which side they’re going to pick.
This is why notable tech entrepreneurs like Elon Musk have emphasized and launched AI safety research projects.
But all of this begs a very heavy question that I will leave for you to think about: Was the purpose of humans to simply launch the next wave of intelligent beings? Who knows? We shall see in 40-ish years.