Ethics Technology

Artificial Intelligence and human sentience

It was a fine morning for the Sunday mass. I was quite moved with a very simple story that my parish priest shared during the mass. Once a guru was meditating on the shore of Ganges. It was clean air and pristine water around. Feeling the morning chill, he opened his eyes and was struck at the sight of a scorpion that was entangled in the roots of a large tree. It was trying very hard to get rid of the roots and it could not. Seeing its ill fate, the guru decided to help it — take the creature from the entanglement. When the guru approached the scorpion, it lashed its tail that had the venomous stinger. The guru was quite quick in response and escaped the sting. Despite the ill behaviour of the scorpion, the guru still tried to help the scorpion. The effort of the guru was noticed by a person who happened to pass by. He asked guru why he was trying to rescue the scorpion, despite he was so sure to get stung. The Guru answered, the scorpion is behaving as per its nature and I am behaving as per my nature.

On the way back from the church, I was thinking about the book of Nick Bostrom that I read – The Superintelligence in the context of the thought of guru. When there is a struggle between the conscience and the intelligence, there is a still a huge gap to be built in. Even though human has built artificial intelligence, we are not even close to understanding the existence of conscience.  If we are able to connect the machine learning powered Peta and Exa bytes of data that is being generated from the countless data sources, we may have a new species in making. Intelligence with the concept of self-replication could make the new species invincible. The self-replicating machines are nothing new for the field of technology. It was Rene Descartes who coined this term and presented to the queen of Sweden, Christina. According to him, the human body was simply a machine that has symbiotic existential relationships with similar internal and external machinery. The concept has been advanced and examined majorly by John von Neumann and these replicating systems received the name — von Neumann machines. He just worked on the concept note and later, mathematician Edward F. Moore proposed the first known suggestion for a practical real-world self-replicating machine through the artificial living plants that could use air, water and soil as sources of raw materials and draw its energy from sunlight via a solar battery or a steam engine. The idea received a huge interest from the space exploration agency NASA with the work of physicist Freeman Dyson, who proposed the idea of self-rectifying spaceships. With the emergence of rapid prototyping, that triggered the evolutionary robotics, the artificial replicating von Neumann machines are now considered to be a form of artificial life.

However, we can consider the evolution of such machines is two different ways. One can be much of a macro concept which applies to the space exploration where these machines would be evolving and adjusting themselves for externalities.  These mega machines would identify, resolve and implement the rectification procedure in case they encounter any problems. Such machines have a huge potential commercial space travel. Such installations can be incorporated in orbital solar arrays, interstellar environmental cleanup and terraforming (transforming a planet to resemble the earth) planets. On a micro level, this concept can be applied to a nanorobot, designed to perform a specific task or tasks repeatedly and with precision at nanoscale dimensions. They have applications in assembly and maintenance of sophisticated systems including the human body. Since they work on a molecular level, they can produce copies of themselves to replace worn-out units. Such a property of an organism with intelligence and without sentience may be belligerent. That could even be an existential threat considering scenarios such as the growth of robot populations at speeds that exceed bacteria –  the Grey goo – hypothetical end-of-the-world scenario involving molecular nanotechnology. Such self-replicating robots could just consume all matter on Earth while building more of themselves. If a single bacteria can become 2 million in 7 hours, then the projected growth rate on nanorobots could lead to 4 trillion robots in 14 hours.

Even though Grey goo is a construct of low-probability, high-impact outcomes from emerging technologies, there could be turn around on such an outlook. To give a perspective, we as humans are not so concerned about killing an ant, but in case we see a colony of ants that has a slight inclination to share our occupancy of space, we perfectly know what should be done to the colony. It is a perfect annihilation! If the machine intelligence as a species see the human civilisation a threat for their existence, who knows they might decide to do? The feeling –  the conscience – the sentience that we may find hard to understand and replicate through our brains may become one day the key to the existence of human race. Will we still allow the scorpion to lash its stinging blow on to us?

3 replies on “Artificial Intelligence and human sentience”

I like the concepts explained, but would like to have the paragraphs broken down to simple narration.

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