As I writer of science fiction Stephen Hawking’s pronouncment on this subject was bound to grab my attention. One of the most eminent scientists of our generation talking doom and gloom and the possible end of the human race if we continue down the road of developing artificial intelligence. Luckily if you read the article on the BBC site (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-30290540) others take a less pessimistic view. They also state that while AI is not just round the corner it may only be decades away.
If you have followed my blog at all over the last eighteen months you’ll know that this and our relationship with intelligent machines has been a constant theme. I have explored it from a number of angles: Where is society going? What will the future look like? What happens when robots and machines are smarter than us, Men and Machines, to link to a few. So as you’ll see I have given it some consideration, not that I consider myself any sort of expert. However, the bottom line for me is that the cat is out of the bag; the stable door is open, the horse has caught the scent of the fresh grass, and any other metaphors you care to think of i.e. I don’t believe there is any going back. So we need to think how we deal with it.
Apart from the, ‘doomsday – end of the human race’ scenario, it will of course impact our lives. I have argued before that we are already seeing the signs of those changes, that perhaps we’re entering a second industrial revolution when machines take over more and more of the tasks and jobs that we think of as being ‘human’. Amazon with its increasing robot workforce and plans for delivery drones. Cars that can drive themselves with little or no human intervention. It doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to see these as ‘the thin end of the wedge’.
But as with the last industrial revolution there will always be those that see this as a disaster, the end of the world as we know it (in a bad way). But without that previous industrial revolution we wouldn’t be where we are today. What we need to learn from the 19th century is that we have to manage its impact. As some jobs disappear other opportunities will arise. Perhaps it will free us to be more creative. Other possibilities that we currently can’t even imagine will emerge. After all for the commercial world to keep turning people have to have income to spend. Perhaps as I speculate in another blog; ‘What will we be doing in the future‘, it will not only be an industrial revolution it will also be a social revolution. What I feel we must try to avoid this time is the wealth it creates is not just focused in the hands of a few ‘industrial barons’ but that there is something in it for everyone. That this time it really does ‘free’ people.
As for the intelligent machines themselves we must be prepared to go forward in partnership with them. As in the culture world of Iain M Banks I can’t see why machine and biological intelligences can’t live side-by-side. Or again, as I speculate in previous blogs, perhaps the division between the two will become increasingly blurred.
As always all comments and insights are welcome.