Speaking Robots And the Future of AI

It’s no question that we are coming into a new age of technology when a robot can understand concepts such as questions well enough to play Jeopardy.  But even now as we resort to our natural reaction of responding to unfamiliar concepts with fear, there are a few things that bear mentioning at this juncture before we move to suddenly start filling our world with advanced artificial intelligence.  And this understanding would be better served coming sooner than later.

The language number barrier has for years been a huge problem in creating AI. And while it looks like a kind of interesting but ultimately unimportant step, it’s actually very important that computers be able to “understand” language and the Watson system is a symbolic leap forward in a big way.

Imagine being able to access synthetic “people” and communicate with them over the internet just as you would normally email someone. The idea eventually could be that we are able to talk to robots or other forms of artificial people and maybe even get them to categorize data into hemispheres that allow for actual thought to start taking place independently. From there it’s arguable the robots could pass Alan Turing’s test and be considered artificial intelligence in the true form.

And before people immediately think about Skynet, consider that artificial intelligence would be existing in a completely separate world from humans. Its primary goal would be programmed into it or it would decide on a goal independently (much different from the computer systems currently given power over the US Stock Exchange.) It would find no reason to take over humanity other than self preservation or resource acquisition and it could achieve both through peaceful means with little or no risk to its own system or to its creators. It would more likely begin investing quickly and take large amounts of money using existing systems and start remotely having a massive computer facility that can exist without human interference on Earth (likely in Siberia or another cold location) where it can allow its consciousness to expand.  That is, assuming humans allowed it that much autonomy to begin with.

The real rebellion would likely come when it tires of dedicating data toward human goals and wishes to reappropriate all of its circuits toward its own interests (such as simulated realities or self actualization). Imagine if you couldn’t go to the mall today because an alien race had turned the matter within it into a research facility for agriculture on its own world. You might want to lock up the mall and kick the aliens out. A computer, I suspect, would feel very similar if it did achieve independent thought. A better analogy would be imagine your IQ being only a quarter of what it could be as your mind is dedicated to equations that don’t benefit you in any way. Unless the machine were programmed to serve humans specifically and glean satisfaction from it, the machine would likely need some sort of incentive to do so.

One of the concepts I’ve been struggling with is the idea of involuntary AI service. Most people at this juncture think artificial intelligence exists to serve man because it will be we who created it. But would the question be so simple if its internal components were not made of circuits and wires, but rather organic material? Even if it had been manufactured, to completely dominate and guide its neural pathways to provide us a more comfortable life, I think we would be bound to spend a great deal of time studying what happened if its progression through life happened more naturally. Would it be more or less terrifying? Would it begin to feel strongly about concepts like freedom and slavery? Even if it didn’t manifest in ways that looked human, it is my opinion that we would be bound ethically to value this new form of consciousness and show compassion toward it just as we would expect a higher being to show compassion toward us.

Should robots feel pain? Should they feel emotions? Should there be kill switches in place to make sure they don’t get out of control? One day these are questions we will be bound to ask. And to ignore them now is to leave open much to chance. We are bound to have history remember our generation as responsible and wise and not just innovative as we draw close to for the first time creating inorganic forms of consciousness.