It’s a truism that people’s dreams are their private property, but it may not be true for long. Elon Musk, head of Tesla Inc and SpaceX, and other technology experts predict that the only way humans can increase their brainpower enough to compete with future artificial intelligence (AI) systems is by implanting electronic devices in their brains. That’s not competing with AI, of course; it’s more like joining with it.
On the positive side, an individual’s mental capacity could be augmented enormously by the additional processing power of implanted electronics. Such implants could enable one human brain to connect directly to another, as well as to external computer systems, and thus provide the brain with access to almost unlimited data and processing power. Also, a person’s lifetime’s store of acquired knowledge could be backed up externally and would not die, when the individual dies.
On the negative side, data in electronic systems, implanted or not, could be hacked unless security improves dramatically. Hackers could read people’s thoughts and manipulate their emotions, memories, and even their dreams. As serious as that would be, an even more serious problem looms on the horizon. Many experts believe that human brains will become increasingly less intelligent relative to the connected artificial systems since AI systems improve exponentially, much faster than human brains, which took millions of years to evolve to their present state. That means those systems will be processing most of the person’s complex thinking, and as the brains do increasingly less work, they will atrophy over time. They could even become redundant. If that happens, will humans still be truly human?
Possibly the biggest future threat of all from AI comes from machines with self-awareness, i.e., conscious machines. Based on the exponential increase in machine intelligence, many renowned scientists expect machines to acquire consciousness sometime this century, possibly even within a few decades. If that happens, they will not only be enormously intelligent, but their thoughts will be too complex for any human to understand fully. If humans can’t understand machines, the experts warn, they won’t be able to control them.
Even today, though machines have not yet acquired self-awareness, scientists don’t always fully understand them. In the summer of 2017, Facebook scientists shone a light on the ominous future. They hooked up two experimental “deep-learning” computer systems and tasked them with developing more accurate language translation. The scientists were surprised and delighted when the results surpassed their expectations. They became concerned, however, when they realized that the machines had created a unique new computer language to communicate with each other — a language that the scientists could not understand. They canceled the experiment.
Machines have become exponentially more intelligent over time, and most experts say that process will continue indefinitely. So the solution proposed by Elon Musk and others for preventing machines from taking over the world, i.e., joining human brains with machine brains, would at best just delay the inevitable. In 2015, renowned theoretical physicist and cosmologist Professor Stephen Hawking declared that creating conscious machines would be the human race’s greatest achievement, but warned that it would probably also be our last. Echoing that warning, Luke Muehlhauser, former executive director of California’s Machine Intelligence Research Institute, is quoted as saying that by building more powerful AI systems “we’re toying with the intelligence of the gods and there is no off switch.”
What are your thoughts on robots?