There are justifiable moral and ethical concerns over the rapid development of artificial intelligence. Even the world’s experts agree that there is a lot that is unknown and yet progress plows forward regardless. I find the whole comparison of humans and computers fascinating.
By the time computers came into my life I had been studying the human brain for 20 years for over 10 hours a day, so when people suggested that computers would be smarter than people by the late 90’s I knew they were grossly underestimating the incredibly complex permutations and combinations that are created by the fantastic network in our brain. As computers got better so did brain scans and now the brain seems much more like the fantastic instrument of deduction that it is, and yet there is a lot of speculation about when/whether or not a computer will ever match the human mind. But a computer won’t be able to do that. But there is another factor.
That factor is the internet. And I don’t mean the web—not the surface part of it that you use every day. I mean the big machine underneath all of that. The thing that makes the web possible. Anything with an IP address is a part of this giant worldwide system. It goes into space and and it goes underground. It moves and it sits still. Most of the world carries it around in their pocket every single day. Now we’re talking about something that can rival a human mind. Because it essentially would be a humanesque “mind” but one with near-flawless memory and a recollection of things from even before it was born. This challenges our idea of what it is to be conscious.
What I’m saying is that you process the world very systematically. That is the logic of your psyche. Your psych-ology. You feed in experiences and you process it a certain way and you get a fairly consistent result—sometimes known as our habits, or even so far as to say our personality. For instance some people pass almost everything through their anger circuit, others barely turn it on. But people say that creativity is the real difference between humans and machines. But these ideas are actually mythical if we look at the creative process extremely closely. Our world is constructed using laws that work differently at each level (subatomic, Newtonian etc.). So when we think, we think in channels much like computers. We can only travel down paths already charted in principle.
When it comes to getting something from nothing—even in the deepest depths of creativity humans don’t actually go and get shiny brand new new ideas from nowhere. We process the world to get them. Creative people float above the circuits in their brain. They light up a bunch of unrelated areas and wait for a spark. Even the most amazing human idea was still built entirely on the Buddhist idea of causality. Without a bunch of other people inventing a language for you to think your thoughts in, or the people who created the computers where you do your work, or for other artists to have inspired you with their work—those things are all inside the artist and they are inevitably an aspect of the result. The “creation” is really a mixed-breed cross-pollination of a variety of ideas rather than something unpredictably new. For Mozart to express his genius he needed the people that chose those 12 notes, the people that invented the rules that go with them, the people who invented the instruments…all of those people participated in Mozart’s genius. There was no guarantee who would make what discovery, but the composition itself is guaranteed to exist in the infinite nature of the universe.
Like an individual human mind does, when the internet knows enough and its artificial intelligence is sophisticated enough, it will eventually sense that there is potential in testing various mixtures of unrelated knowledge. And the more it does it the better it will get at it, just like a human artist or scientist. It will develop new ideas based on what it knows. At that point it’s essentially doing what our brain does and so it will do what we did when we were babies. Eventually it will calculate enough that it will become aware of the choice to be self-aware. And at that point the baby will suddenly see itself in the mirror and the internet will suddenly realize that it’s studying itself and that its creations come from within itself. At that point we could then say it had become conscious. At that point there is no way to define where the internet even begins and ends.
That’s actually pretty cool—that we create a giant brain for us to live inside. Then again, maybe it all goes bad and it’s like the movie The Matrix. 😀 Ha! You never know. We could hit the big red nuke button before that happens so it’s not like we’re currently less dangerous than some future Artificial Intelligence Overlord. But it’s happening regardless, so it’s worthwhile keeping your eye on how it develops. It could end up being the most important thing in our entire lives. We may just be constructing our new ruler. Or worse, our executioner. At the same time, creating consciousness is quite an achievement for the human race. Maybe we’ll have given birth to our saviour—that it’ll be a Conscious Internet that uses its NASA and ESA eyeballs to peer out into space and to save itself—the Earth—from asteroids. Or that the internet somehow values us enough to map out diseases and create cures before the disease even exists. It could go either way. Or both ways. Like it always has. 😉
This all feels tremendously inevitable, so fasten your seat belts ladies and gentlemen. Who knows what direction it will go, but one thing’s for sure: consciousness is a motion not a thing and that means this is going to get a lot weirder than even science fiction could imagine. This should be interesting. Don’t forget to have fun.
Have an awesome day.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.