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At the heart of our fears around AI lies a conundrum.
The origin of the word ‘artificial’ itself points to a human element – made by us, or not natural or spontaneous. Yet the current panic it is generating in some quarters derives from its direct opposite – intelligence made not by us but by computers, machine, robots or androids, perhaps. Meanwhile ‘intelligence’ stems from an ability to comprehend or perceive.
And if it did, would it still be artificial? Made by us?
As the Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom has said, it would be a Darwinian error to create something more intelligent than we are.
However, what we actually fear perhaps is that there might be a creator other than ourselves. Something gestalt – more than the sum of its parts. The ghost in the machine.
It’s a fear as old as humanity. Some might even argue that it’s what has caused us to invent religion, a way of rationalising what we don’t understand. A way of ordering and making sense of the things that (already) lie beyond our own ability to comprehend; a manifestation of an intelligence that has always existed outside or our own control.
So, are we now finally heading into the decider, the ultimate showdown between science, art and religion – a highbrow slugfest where all our intellectual chickens are at last coming home to roost (and our eggs finally being counted)?
We’ve been in places like this before, of course, with Gutenberg and Caxton, with the Luddites. Maybe we will come to feel we have quelled this storm, but end up here again eventually. String theory might have it that we are already in all these places at once.
So what will it look like, when AI takes over? How will we know? Impossibly perfect androids with seductive voices, who won’t take no for an answer? Or something more subtle: an algorithm that effects our election results and steers us into heated discussions on social media that might perhaps even lead us to war?
How will we know? Impossibly perfect androids with seductive voices, who won’t take no for an answer?”