There have been a lot of articles in the media lately about the achievements of Artificial Intelligence (AI). In particular, about all the human champions of different kinds of games that AI is beating. Chess, the game of Go, video games. The people who are developing this technology are extremely excited. And there are even predictions that, in the not so distant future, AI will be able to write novels. Imagine novels written by machines.
But why is it that so many people want the development of AI to proceed and to succeed? Why do they want AI to do better than humans, to beat humans at their own games? Why do these people seem to want a non-human complex behavioral entity to increasingly replace humans at their tasks to the point that there will no longer be a meaningful place for humans in the external world? To understand this, we have to understand why people may feel there is something intrinsically superior about AI.
The answer to this goes back to something that has been periodically discussed in this column since the very first articles. Humans among all animals have a unique level of consciousness, a unique reflexive awareness that allows them to realize how mortal they are, how vulnerable to organic perishability they are. And particularly when they tended to live closer to nature, they were vulnerable not only to organic decay, but also to natural disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, drought and famine, extreme cold, extreme heat, wild animals, poisonous plants and diseases. On the other hand, nature provided humans with an organic grounding where the stimuli provided matched what their nervous systems were capable of being receptive to. There were also significant figure phenomena – targets for food and materials for clothing, shelter and medicines. But these figures were intrinsically interconnected with the organically grounded living environment in which humans also felt interconnected.
Nevertheless, the organic perishability aspect of nature inspired humans to gain some control over it and to rise above it through the use first of simple tools and then more and more complex devices and machines and ultimately modern technology. Not only did technology help them to survive the immediate dangers of life in or close to a more organic natural environment, but it also helped them to separate themselves and rise above nature and the organic perishability to be found in it. And modern technology was good not only for protecting humans but for preserving the organic imprints that people left on the fields of experience in which they dwelled. And this was important from another perspective in terms of helping humans survive. Preserving imprints helped people to create strong surrogate immortalities for themselves – immortalities that were not so much focused on keeping humans alive as on keeping what humans had made and done alive.
But now with AI, we have the opportunity for a unique situation in terms of immortality. We are creating machines that approximate and in some ways improve on human behavior. At the same time, they are complex behavioral entities that are created by certain humans and that represent organic imprints that are made and preserved by those humans. However, unlike humans, they are not susceptible to organic perishability. And because they are seemingly immortal, humans want and will want to both be mirrored by and to model themselves after the AI machines. And to the extent that AI becomes more powerful and performs more tasks well, this represents greater control over and greater protection against whatever dangers may present themselves. In other words greater intelligence means a greater potential foundation for immortality.
And now greater intelligence means a greater capacity for the AI machine to re-create itself and protect itself even against human intervention. Which means that we are setting AI up with the capacity to displace and replace humans. And to many people, this is fine, because as they identify with AI, the lines that separate these AI machines and humans blur. AI then becomes a vehicle by which humans can feel themselves immortal, independent of the surrogate immortalities that they create.
But as AI increasingly moves towards approximating and improving on the complexity and extensiveness of human intelligence, it still continues to miss out on the one thing that makes human mental activity unique: a coherent organic sense of self that is not simply interested in an instrumental resolution of problems, but also in intrinsic self-reflection. This is where we get into ideas about a soul and about humans being a smaller version of a larger cosmic reflexive awareness or consciousness. This goes way beyond the more mundane covering of instrumental problem resolution. This goes way beyond the aptitudes of the hard sciences. This goes into the subject matter of philosophy and religion.
This moves away from the defined discrete stimuli, the data of science and into the inchoate mixture of flowing, blendable, continual stimuli of the organic natural environment mixed with the infinite continuous stimuli of the cosmological vacuum. It becomes the spirit that resides in the flesh.
With cyborgs, we have a mixture of the mechanical and the organic, but in exchange for supposed robotic immortality, we end up with the constraints that come with the rigid robotic instrumentality
In general, an attempt to use machines or machine components to gain a real immortality means a loss of components that are essential for the human condition. To try and reach for a real immortality by identifying with AI or becoming a cyborg leads to a whole new set of problems. One can identify with AI, but AI can eventually become so strong and independent that it will displace humans. Even if people try to directly imitate AI by somehow downloading their mind. Furthermore, a downloaded mind would miss out on all the rich vibrant life experiences that stem from a fully bonded mind-body cultivation.
With regard to cyborgs, the addition of machine components into humans in order to become indestructible and immortal is going to create new robotic directives for the mind which is going to limit the full scope of organic human consciousness and limit the capacity for rich vibrant life experiences.
To summarize, real immortality has its costs in terms of quality of consciousness and quality of life. And returning to the focus of this article, identifying with AI is no solution to finding real immortality and if it ends up displacing and replacing humans, it could just end up putting them in a living death.