The more we think of AI as humans, the more we think of ourselves as machines

The student at my PhD symposium almost snorted when someone referred to Alexa from Amazon as artificial intelligence or AI.

“It is nothing but a voice-activated database query system. No intelligence whatsoever,” she sneered.

She had a point and she missed the point. Finding user-friendly ways to access data has always been important, and over the years, technology upgrades have included a leap from specialized languages ​​(secret codes that only computers understand and master) to natural language interfaces (“Alexa, turn on the lights.”) on Although these advances are impressive, they are not artificial intelligence.

But this misses the real issue. The biggest leap forward is not how well computers think, but how well we think about computers. What changes is our awareness of what it means to be human. By giving the interface a name, a distinctive voice, and the appearance of a character, Alexa does not teach us to use a natural language database interface, but rather teaches us to consider a computer program as one of our own. These days, Amazon sends you notes suggesting you “keep up” with Alexa and what you’re doing, just as you would a long-forgotten friend.

The ubiquity of Alexa and Siri, which are now in almost every mobile phone, car and pervaded by businesses and families, continues a long pattern of computer incarnation. star Wars Author George Lucas has created robotic characters, C3PO and R2D2, that express feelings towards both humans and each other. These, in turn, sparked an emotional connection so strong that having human characters risk their lives to save them was not absurd.

In the first generation of Star Trek We have also learned to allow non-humans to enter the realm of human feelings and loyalties. It is not surprising that the second generation of Star Trek He will continue to explore the humanization of AI. In the TV series Star Trek Generations, Amnesty International (data) is on trial, claiming what human rights are basically. in the movie Star Trek: First Contactwe find the temptation of the same AI to join the Queen of Borg and overcome the sins of the flesh.

It doesn’t really matter that AI has not yet lived up to the claim that it is intelligent in the sense of being conscious. What matters is the growing cultural acceptance that human-made devices made of silicon, plastic, and metal are organisms we treat as our peers.

This acceptance also slowly changes the way we think about ourselves. Much attention has been paid to whether and when so-called artificial intelligence will become intelligent. Apart from fiction, like Neil Stevenson Drops; or dodge in hellAlmost insufficient consideration has been given to how we begin to think of ourselves as artificial intelligence systems.

Perhaps the most obvious change is the constant transfer of the human personality to the mind, and thus the brain. In the early twentieth century, human death was characterized by apnea and heartbeat. Since the late 1960s, it has been recognized by the absence of certain meaningful electrical signals in the brain. To be dead is to be ‘brain dead’, even if the rest of the body is working. To be alive is to be a “living brain” even if the whole brain is preserved through artificial means. We measure the existence of the mind and soul by what happens in the brain.

As Jeffrey Bishop notes in Expected corpseWith the advent of increasingly complex transplant surgery, the body (not necessarily a human body; we also use pigs, cows, and artificial parts) has become a repository of interchangeable parts necessary to maintain the brain and central nervous system. Personally, I have two prosthetic lenses, and a cow heart valve in a silicone body. Artificial hips, knees and elbows are everywhere. We’re all just six million dollar guys and Robocops on hold.

No wonder transhumanism (that made the cover time in 2011) is common among those with the wealth and arrogance to imagine themselves as beyond potential humans; Transfer their basic consciousness to a computer program.

One of these is Elon Musk, who said in a 2018 interview with Axios on HBO that humans should fuse with AI, creating a “symbiosis” that leads to the “democratization of intelligence.” Indeed, given our cultural sense of what it means to be human changes, we may very well divide into three types of human beings: those who are able to become transcendental to humans, those who will simply die, and those whose religion promises to live forever in some others. appearance. Religion will become the transhumanist of the poor person.

The transition that transmits the human center to the mind, now defined as a complex set of electrical impulses supported by mechanisms that sustain it (the body), represents a profound shift in our understanding of what it means to be human as those affected. With the great religious teachings and the emergence of modernity and the secular age. Like those religious teachings and the rise of modernity, they raise profound questions about how we understand ourselves and others.

When does the body lose its human rights? When do you start getting it? Should AI systems have human rights when they appear in a conscious state? And when they reproduce themselves, a major goal of AI research, who will control their reproductive rights? Most of all, what makes a human being? Is there more to the observed patterns of electrical interactions in the brain?

Traditionally, the intellectual center for exploring human self-understanding has been the humanities. However, universities have been downgrading the study of humanities in favor of STEM subjects related to increasing economic productivity. In any case, humanities scholars need to refocus on emerging cultures and their understanding of what it means to be human. STEM researchers, who study who we are, do not have the tools to study who we are and how we express our self-understanding. So those who focus specifically on what it means to be human should address humanity in the future as well as the past.

Religion also addresses our understanding of what it means to be human. However, it seems that the changes taking place so far with the advent of artificial intelligence have hardly received the attention of religious leaders who are still struggling with modernity. We realized that there might be virtual churches, but did we consider that some of their members (and even preachers and musicians) might be intelligent machines represented by the gods? What happens to our humanity when it is not just stripped of the body, but reincarnated into a different form? What do terms like ‘body’, ‘soul’, ‘spirit’ and ‘body’ mean in virtual worlds?

Because we are on the cusp of a pivotal shift in human self-understanding, we need a renewed focus on these questions. And this focus should highlight not only the exploration of the past, but the people of the future, hitherto in literature, television, film, history, politics, and the fine arts.

Robert Hunt is Director of Global Theological Education at the Perkins School of Theology on the SMU campus in Dallas. This was written in the Dallas Morning News.

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