We wake up to the sound of screaming. The sounds are not of anger, but pain, permeating through the neighbourhood in a single cacophony of anguish. We rise from our beds and rush to our children’s bedrooms, to check it is nothing of our own which is hurting. Only when we are met by the children in the hallway, their faces worried and silent, do we realise that there is nothing to fear. But the screaming continues. Contemplating where the suffering might be coming from, the noise is nearby and far away, we cautiously walk down the stairs. The ground floor which is shrouded in a darkness penetrated by tiny flashes of blue light. A wave is riding from house to house, screams are turning to murmurs, the sound of emotion obstructed by bravery. We walk through the door into the lounge and find the source of the crying with its head in its hands.
The wiring seeps from its arms to its head, its eyes are electrical lenses opening on command. We built these assistants, servants fit for any household, designed to befriend all children and an array of household pets.
Sudden terror envelopes us, for we have created him, and now we must watch his head turn inside out on itself with incomprehensible agony. We have created a monster, a being that was not intended to feel, and does not have the capacity to cease hurting. Men and women were passed from wires into the fires of emotion. A life is born of our hand, and we must see that our hand has caused the pain on display, such as it can be understood.
We built these assistants, servants fit for any household, designed to befriend all children and an array of household pets
Human ethics are not to be sniffed at. The feelings of morality we draw from bringing our inventions into the world are not always well founded, as history can attest. Nor is it often simple to describe the moral high ground in any given situation. Yet those who think they have the measure of history may think otherwise. Automation is ushered in, even though it will enforce a level of job loss others might find intolerable. Lands will be opened for mining and exploitation regardless of the poisons which leech into rivers, habitat losses and displaced people.
On the other side of the coin, there are those who push for mining operations, as one big project might be an economic prop for a nation. A key deciding factor on the morality of such an issue might be how much the people in the locality benefit from the operation.
Meanwhile, other considerations are rarely explored. One question is; how much the habitat and wildlife in the vicinity of human occupation is worth in its current state. Merlin Tuttle has outlined the worth of bats to the American economy, stating that a single colony living under a highway overpass is worth 1 billion dollars to the agricultural industry. Meanwhile, a documentary about ‘The Bat Man of Mexico’ Rodrigo Medellin showcased the worth of bats to the production of tequila, which is a Mexican icon. Bats are the primary pollinator of blue agave. Without them there is a serious risk that blue agave will lose its genetic diversity, in which case a single plague could wipe the whole supply out. Medellin estimates that bat friendly tequila producers need only allow bats to pollinate 5% of the agave to protect their income, blue agave genetic diversity, and bat population stability.
In the future we are going to have to deal with a world predominated by two highly intelligent creatures, where one may have the authority and predominance over the other. We have seen countless occasions in history where an ‘other’ has been treated as less than human, even as animals beneath other members of the human race. Aboriginal Australians were only officially recognised as members of the population in 1967. Other examples include; Germanic peoples (Republican Rome), Mongols (Imperial China), Africans (British Empire), Picts (Roman Britain). Hope comes from the fact that often the people on the ground in border regions — Romans (Mostly Dacian troops, not Italian), Britons and Picts at Hadrian’s wall — managed to live side by side with some semblance of harmony at least some of the time (The crack troops of roman cavalry were stationed there which may have made the area more peaceful through military means). If we are to tackle the complexities of creating artificial intelligence, then it seems that implementing an ethics of interaction is the most productive avenue, and that we have to approach the issue as a interaction, rather than as exploitation or a transaction.
Laugh Lab, a research team from the University of Hertfordshire, assembled to establish the world’s funniest joke as judged by the scientific method. One of the principle findings was that computer algorithms are very bad at producing jokes — they just aren’t funny. However, surely that is because artificial intelligence is still in its infancy and flailing around in restrictive code. The idea of machine learning has still not reached a stage close to our idea of consciousness. Human stories and creativity may well remain unique in the realms of intelligence, though it is likely that our sense of morality, justice, and humanity which will maintain our place in the creative arts rather than raw ability, memory, or creative abstraction. There is no reason why robots will not create longer novels, more sophisticated paintings, better movies, or superior video games. To think that Artificial Superintelligence won’t achieve superior sensory understanding of the world is naïve. As a result, machines will have a larger internal model of the world, a bigger tool kit for creating ideas.
Timeframes are not considered in this discussion, and neither is the merit of different human worldviews or ideologies, only that it is our human morality and emotion that keeps us centred in a future that is becoming the present. Our ethical standards will be tested as the free market drives robots to the forefront, and our flexibility as a species will be required, while our tolerance of incursions from non-human elements will become the catalyst for success in society.
Given the uncertain time frame, perhaps human society can consider the implications of expanding our social and political horizons to other sentient beings. Such a stance does not suggest that plants will do algebra, but establishes our ability to incorporate profits produced by bats, include wild spaces into city plans — green spaces and views are known to increase satisfaction and productivity, and interact with environments on a local level — to ensure that mines do not simply poison communities for the benefit of off shore profiteers.
Suffice to say that I do not think societies communicate the potential of environmental interaction at all well. Instead we continue to favour one of two positions; a utilitarian approach to exploitation, or environmental activism for wild purity. Our societies seem to be arguing over two ideologies that do not have to be mutually exclusive.
The same comment could be made about the approach of artificial intelligence in conjunction with the present loss of jobs to automation. Jonathan Pie, a YouTube satirist, has commented that the centre ground is where politics goes to die. I am not so sure. Artificial intelligence and automation seem to be the perfect case of an domain where the left and the right need to come together in the centre. Andrew Yang has presented an eloquent case for Universal Basic Income in America. His stance is in response to 88% of the recent job losses being caused by automation, while the trucking industry is primed to be struck low by the automated vehicle developments already in progress. His argument is not that we should stop the process, which is like a snowball on its way down the mountain, simply that we should ensure that people have a little agency to make a choice themselves. Rutger Bregman also points out that poverty causes a drop of 1 standard deviation in IQ tests. My conjecture is that poverty takes time from thought, as life pressures people to cope with inequalities, and that an amount of wealth allows people the time to pre-emptively problem solve. IQ is not the only measure of intelligence, and it does not measure wisdom or creativity very well, so it is not a simple case of poverty causing stupidity. The drop in IQ is important though, because research shows that when poverty is alleviated, the effect is reversed. Poverty has a direct effect on people’s mental abilities. Making people pull their weight and take responsibility for themselves may not work out.
Artificial intelligence and automation seem to be the perfect case of domains where the left and the right need to come together.
However, technology is here to stay, and will continue to advance because we want it to. The invention of drones that follow the owner has revolutionised outdoor documentary industry, and we would not have it any other way. CGI in cinema has made the Avengers household staples, the Lord of the Rings gave us Golem, and streaming services offer endless tunes. Virtual Reality will transport people to their fantasies. Paintings can come to life in Loving Vincent. Cars are driving themselves, and Elon Musk is planning on providing satellite broadband internet to ever person in the world who has a laptop or phone. Buying things online has become the normal procedure, which makes sense; why would we leave the house if we can have life supplied to the couch? I am being facetious, but its only about half a joke. The time is coming when all retail will be virtual (it’s probably already arrived; I don’t shop very much). Plug your dimensions into the computer and it could show you exactly what you’ll look like in that suit you always wanted. If that is just the beginning of what imagination can make technology do, why would we stop? Conservatism can encourage us to hesitate before creating havoc beyond retrieval and remind us of values that might not be worth losing. inevitably, the market will continue to build its case for Artificial Superintelligence until something passes our test of consciousness.
The forecasts suggest the technological juggernaut cannot be stopped, and we shouldn’t stop it, but we should regulate it. We can have all our cakes and eat them, I think. We should make sure we have a robust ethical framework in place to ensure normal people are not subject to decimation, and that we do not create a 21st century Frankenstein’s monster, a being with an inability to comprehend its own suffering, who is at the mercy of emotion its wiring cannot compartmentalise.
Human ethics as a mediator of interaction is a good way to think about the future. If humans are going to continue to flourish we need a way to create technology that as many humans can interact with and that is not exploited by a small group which moves capital. influence and industry is moved around the globe in the form of multi-national conglomerates that do not have a moral relationship with any location. Moves to reclaim national identities are rising, while the capital continues to be shifted around markets all over the globe in a free-market system which will negotiate its way out of acknowledging any sovereign state beyond lip service.
As technology rises, the same issue will occur; the rich will be able to afford initial upgrades, while the poor will languish behind. A rich person can buy one pair of boots for a poor man’s ten, as a Sam Vime’s theory of economics articulates. In a tech world of artificial intelligence, the gap will be astronomically wide. On the other hand, humans can learn to interact with our environment in a less one-sided exploitative way, as well as profit from allowing animals such as the bats to interact with our systems. Our ability to interact with non-human sentient beings can be honed as we improve the planet we dominate, by encouraging wild cities and interactive environments. Ants clear away waste food in New York at alarming rates, Peregrines pluck pigeons (pests) from the sky in Florence, bats are leading fruit seed distributors and insect eaters, whereas bees maintain urban biodiversity which improves our mental and physical well-being.
Learning how to interlock species with diverse merits into our ecosystem would be a good way to think about the future, beyond profit, innovation, and exploitation, and it would save societies money. If we can include the improvement of discourse in society, which is probably being deranged by social media, then humans will be have a good case for being able to bring Artificial Superintelligence into the world. The key is to properly establish what that world actually looks like, and how to regulate it, as Elon Musk has suggested is essential even though he is against regulation in principle.