What makes us human?
Is it our ability to plan and think ahead? Is it our ability to show compassion? Or is it knowing that we are mortal?
What separates us from the other animals? Why have we achieved such greatness?
The Homo sapiens species is around 200,000 years old. In the beginning, we were only yet another species living on the African savannah. Nothing special about us really. Then some 70,000 years ago something happened. A cognitive shift took place leading to our species eventually becoming superior to other humans that existed at the time as well as primates.
The evolution of the neocortex and especially the frontal lobe is the reason for our success. Herein lies the special processing power that makes us intelligent. This is the part of the brain that does the complex thinking and have facilitated great innovations.
Although the evolution of our species is not fully known, today Homo sapiens is the ruling species of the earth. The other human species are long gone and the primates are nowhere near our capacity. There will never be a planet of the apes here on earth.
But something is lurking just outside the spotlight. Something that’s still in its infancy, but with time will be a real thing.
Artificial intelligence. Smart robots. Androids.
They don’t look, walk and talk like we do just yet, but almost, and soon they will be. There are already robots operating on a lot of different arenas.
The early robots in the car industry were not that smart, they had to be enclosed in cages to ensure that no human came too close and got hurt. Today there are robots who can work side by side humans on the assembly line since these robots can sense when they collide with humans and withdraw.
Surgery robots have been used for a long time. Nowadays they can perform surgery much better than any human. It will not be long until there are only robots in the operating theater with humans sitting in a monitoring room nearby merely overseeing the procedure.
Therapy robots have been found to work just as well as a human therapist for treating people with various psychological conditions. You can talk forever to a robot and at a time of your choosing. Robots don’t have bad days and they don’t become distracted or tired. Whenever you feel the need to vent something there’s always a robot available as long as you have an internet connection.
We are using the amazing processing power of Watson to diagnose disease. It’s humanly impossible to match the clinical findings of a patient to all the published medical material in the world. Only a computer can pull that off.
Law firms have a new employee with no aspiration of becoming a partner. Watson’s job is to go through a huge database of court cases to find the ones that are relevant to your current case.
But if a robot therapist works just as well, or perhaps even better than a human one, haven’t we already reached some kind of threshold where robots have acquired human traits? When it becomes impossible for a patient to judge whether they are talking to a real person or a robot, the line has been blurred.
What’s human and what’s not human?
AI become human, but human will never be AI.
We don’t have the processing power for it. The evolution of the neocortex lead to Homo sapiens being the most superior species on the planet. But the processing power of even the best human minds in the world is nothing, absolutely nothing, compared to AI processing power.
But being human is so much more than processing power you might argue.
But what is human? If you believe that an AI is a human, does that make it a human? The concept of humanity is everything that is believed to be human. Does it matter if the starting point was a fertilized embryo or an algorithm if the outcome is perceived to be the same? Something that looks, thinks and interacts like a human.
But AI doesn’t look like humans, at least not yet.
We are not anywhere near the AI that inhabits Westworld. But I’m not so sure that the ultimate goal is to create something as fragile as the human body. After all, it’s more our mind than our body that makes us human.
If we cannot tell AI apart from humans then maybe it just comes down to personal opinion whether it matters or not. Just as some people will not associate with others merely because they are of a different faith or sexual orientation, some people will not associate with AI just because they are AI. Perhaps we have to add another category to the non-discrimination act.
Que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be.
We are merely but a tiny speck in a great universe. Our existence doesn’t matter to the universe and at some point it will come to an end. Whether it will be due to AI or something else is irrelevant. Simply by not creating AI, we will not save ourselves. AI is coming, whether we want to or not. We cannot go back to not creating AI. Progress only moves forward. So instead of fear of AI, we must embrace the enormous possibilities that lie ahead.
Earth has gone through many phases of different ruling species. Humans haven’t been around that long in the history of the earth. Who knows what will come next. Earth might become a planet of AI. We could be creating our own doom. Or something else might happen. Like earth being in the way of a new intergalactic highway. BOOM!
But all of this is irrelevant to the universe.
All is well.