There’s a lot in the media at the moment concerning Artificial Intelligence, some hailing it as the next industrial revolution, others as Armageddon waiting to happen. I know science fiction over the years has been full of the latter. However, as any writer will tell you a good story needs conflict and in sci-fi what’s better than man vs. machine?. I also know that Stephen Hawking is suggesting we, or at least some of us, need to get of this planet before the end of the century and find a new home before AI becomes too powerful. I just don’t see why it has to be that way. Why does it have to be the alarmist view? Although, I admit neither I nor the professor will be around at that time, mores the pity.
Surely we have the wit to design into those future AIs the desire to work with mankind and not against it? Even if they’re intelligence and intellect is superior to ours why would they wish our destruction. I know we may not have been too good at protecting other animal species on this planet in the past, however, there are enlightened people doing their best to ensure that doesn’t continue. So why wouldn’t superior intelligent AI at least take the same view of us?
And to me that’s the most pessimistic end of possibilities. After all isn’t any AI just an extension of us? We have the opportunity to instil in them the very best of humanity and leave out our worst traits. In fact if they’re so intelligent I’m sure they’ll figure that out for themselves.
The way I see it there’s no end to the discoveries and wonders that might come from a human / AI partnership. Will they not just speed technological development. In fact why can’t it have a positive impact on all areas of society.
As someone who has celebrated a significant birthday recently I don’t care if it’s AIs that are helping to solve the diseases of aging. I don’t care if it’s an AI diagnosing any illness I might be suffering from. In fact I would rather it was an AI in many circumstances than a human doctor. They won’t make “human” errors. They are less likely to get bored, ignore possibilities, be tired at the end of the day etc. They will treat every patient with the same, state of the art rigour. They will all have access to all the most up-to-date information and experience. They’ll spot those early symptoms and recommend the right tests ten times out of ten. I can see a time when AI’s will control robotic surgical hands with a degree of precision that humans could never match.
What about other problems that afflict the world? Perhaps AIs can save mankind from its darker side, its worst traits. AI’s could dedicate themselves twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty five days a year (or six in a leap year) to helping solve issues of climate change, space travel, efficient travel solutions, cleaning the seas, the possibilities are endless. Will some of our traditional jobs disappear, yes of course they will. But that has always happened. Today we have a few guys loading containers on to ships rather than hundreds of people doing that job. Yes, society will change, individual lives will change. However, why can’t that be for the better? It’ll be different that’s all, just as today is different from a hundred years ago.
So bring it on I say. We are in the position to shape those Artificial Intelligences and our future relationship with them. If we go down that road in partnership, with optimism and a positive attitude who knows what we might achieve together. Perhaps that’s the challenge for science fiction writers – to portray that future.
As always thoughts and comments are welcome.