BY NWEKE CHINONSO
No doubt, the unique significance of humans as natural being is hugely important for our understanding of culture and civilization and neglecting it may sound death knell to our existence. As it stands today, the term artificial intelligence (AI) has two meanings. The first is it’s narrow meaning – AI as a system that comprised of a powerful computer, a large data base, and a program that sorts desired patterns from that data base. It’s usually designed to do one thing that would normally require human intelligence and to do it faster and more efficiently than humans can. The system itself is not intelligent; it only simulates intelligence, hence ‘artificial.’
Such AI systems are already up and running that work with a database consisting of many thousands of X-rays of lungs, say, in various states of health together with top-level professional medical analysis of their state of health. The system then compares an X-ray of ones lungs with the database in order to check whether or not one have, say, a specific type of cancer. More specifically, it tends to extract statistics about visual patterns in the X-ray image and compare these to other extracted patterns in the database. Such systems can now make diagnoses in some cases with better accuracy than the best human doctors.
This is all good and is to be welcomed. However, facial recognition techniques can be used for intrusive surveillance by totalitarian regimes – this is already happening in China’s north-western province of Xinjiang, among the Uyghurs people where human rights groups believe China has detained more than one million Uyghurs against their will over the past few years in a large network of what the state calls “re-education camps”, and sentenced hundreds of thousands to prison terms. There’s increasing danger of it being used in other parts of the world especially countries with totalitarian regimes, and this poses a huge threat to humanity.
The second kind of AI is Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). This has two aspects. Firstly, there’s a desire and attempt to enhance existing humans by biotechnology, drugs, etc., so that they become super-intelligent. Secondly, the idea is to build a super-intelligent machine, perhaps based on silicon, that’s more intelligent than humans in every area. The late Stephen Hawking rightly put it thus: “The real risk with AI isn’t malice but competence. A super-intelligent AI will be extremely good at accomplishing its goals, and if those goals aren’t aligned with ours we’re in trouble.”
Will Technology change what it means to be human?
No doubt, technological advancement seeks to alter totally what it means to be human, but the great danger here is experimentation with the human germline and playing God by reprogramming the DNA of all generations to come. The British writer and lay theologian Clive Staples Lewis put it well by saying: “What we call Man’s power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument…Man’s conquest of Nature, if the dreams of some scientific planners are realized, means the rule of a few hundreds of men over billions upon billions of men. There neither is nor can be any simple increase of power on Man’s side. Each new power won by man is a power over man as well. Each advance leaves him weaker as well as stronger. In every victory, besides being the general who triumphs, he is also the prisoner who follows the triumphal car…Man’s final conquest has proved to be the abolition of Man.”
The transhumanist AGI agenda which seeks to find a solution to physical death and to create a paradise is to my mind, a good idea, at least one that is going to shape the rest of our knowledge about life. But also one that poses a threat to human existence.
Despite the enormous benefits that comes with AI, dangers still lurk in technology’s ubiquitous and unrelenting encroachment in our lives, and this reminds us that we’re already in a world increasingly adopting invasive surveillance techniques that threaten privacy, and aims at destroying life on earth if those goals aren’t aligned with ours.