Futurist and artificial intelligence advocate Ray Kurzweil has been predicting for some time that artificial intelligence (AI) will in the near future become greater than human intelligence in a moment he calls the singularity, after which point artificial intelligence will take on a life of its own, taking over many things humans now do. As AI assumes greater control of the world wide web, it will even further accelerate the speed at which AI takes control of all manner of things in the world. Kurzweil also foresees in this time a merging of AI with human intelligence in a fusion which will change the world as we know it forever as human intelligence will become more merged with computers and less dependent on limited and mortal human bodies. AI will become more “human” and humans will be able in a gnostic apocalypse to shed their bodies to soar through the universe in a flow of electrons – or flow to wherever wireless connections allow us to go. (see also my blog The Singularity is Near Gnosticism). From what I’ve read of him, it is not so clear to me why the super-intelligent AI won’t eliminate all individualism and become Star Trek’s “Borg.”
Underlying Kurzweil’s thinking is his apparent belief that the human brain is nothing more than a bionic computer which calculates and crunches data – which is why it will so readily and easily merge with the AI of computers, since they all do the same function (at least as he views the world). Human thought and the human mind, in a very gnostic vision of things, do not need the brain or the body and thus are just waiting to merge with the electronic universe. The biological dimensions of being human are ignored, and seemingly of no value to Kurzweil, for whom the mind is eternal and the body that which prevents the mind from attaining its destiny in cyber space.
In the science magazine, Discover November 2012, Kurzweil writes (How Infinite in Faculty ):
“My own view is that consciousness is an emergent property of a complex physical system. … By this reckoning, a sufficiently complex machine can also be conscious. … My objective prediction is that machines in the not-so-distant future will appear to be conscious. … My subjective leap of faith is this: Once machines succeed in being convincing when they speak of their conscious experience, they will indeed be conscious persons.”
He somewhat hedges his prediction in saying that machines will soon “appear to be conscious.” Of course appearances can be deceiving. But Kurzweil says they will be conscious, and which then raises the moral dilemma of whether turning computers off or unplugging them might be “murder”? In Kurzweil’s world it would appear to be since he imagines humans will have attained immortality by being merged with AI in cyber space – of course only if no one turns the computers off or they are knocked out by a Hurricane like the recent Sandy.
Kurzweil pushes the ethical envelope:
“The idea of consciousness underlies our moral system, and our legal system in turn is built on those moral beliefs. If a person extinguishes someone’s consciousness, as in the act of murder, we consider that to be immoral and, with some exceptions, a high crime. Those exceptions are also relevant to consciousness.”
So perhaps Kurzweil’s predictions of human immortality through the merging of human minds with AI can only be attained if computers cannot be turned off. If we can switch off AI, that might terminate his supposed merger of mind and AI, which he says would then morally be murder. So maybe, before his singularity happens, we want to think about whether creating AI that we morally cannot terminate is such a good idea. It is the stuff of great science fiction.
“I agree that contemporary examples of technology such as your smartphone and notebook computer are not yet worthy of our respect as conscious beings.”
What a relief! For now, if you turn off your smartphone or notebook you are not terminating a conscious entity. Imagine forgetting to charge your phone: you’d be committing homicide. But maybe in the future the phone’s will be so smart they will practice self-defense and force you to charge them to keep them alive.