Thursday, July 16, 2009

The rise of AI

One of the common themes of science fiction is the idea of humans building machines smart enough to take over, or simply coexist with us as a new, robotic species.  I for one can't wait for mankind to be faced with the moral dilemma of having created a virtual being who possesses a personality that is indistinguishable from that of a human. At what point is it alive? What makes us human? If a program can display creative thought and is self-aware, is it sentient?

I feel that this is one of the few fields that is really on the cusp of making science fiction into a reality. I also feel that we have possessed the technology but have been dragging our heels, or at least been heading in the wrong direction. I'm not a computer engineer but some of the concepts I feel need more attention are obvious to me. Firstly, development needs to be compartmentalized. The human brain controls many things that our conscious mind doesn't need to be bothered with.  Not just things like breathing and making our heart pump, but things like seeing and hearing.  We don't need to turn on the cones and rods in our eyes manually, or activate our ears.

I think that by combining different technologies that already exist, we can develop an AI that would blow our minds.  There is a company that is using the game "Second Life" to do some amazing things.  They have developed a virtual pet that can learn tricks.  It sounds kind of lame at first, but the way it learns is similar to the way a real dog (or human for that matter) learns.  Check out the companies website HERE.  What if this concept was combined with voice recognition software and a chatbot program like Alice?  Now, what I propose is using this approach to raise a virtual child as you would a human child.  Imagine building a closed world like "The Truman Show" and simply raising an AI being as if it were human?

I feel that the kind of personality we associate with being human would arise on its own.
  Humans are essentially machines made of organic material.  There is also the debate as to where our personalities come from to begin with.  But nature or nurture, genetics or environment, we do what we do because of primal basic instincts.  How we attain our basic and higher needs appears complex because we have had a lifetime of experiences that affect our decisions.  Subtle differences in our genetic code may steer us one way or another, but our choices are based on thousands of factors that have developed over the span of our lives.

Think of a child.  Why children do the things they do is far simpler to understand than an adults motivations for their actions.  A virtual being that can learn and is programmed with certain needs as human children are born with would develop no differently.  If a I am hungry, I need food.  I could steal it, and a child who has never been taught the repercussions of stealing very well may do so for the sake of survival.  But if there are repercussions, and if the child knows what they are, they will find another way of obtaining food.  We work at our jobs because our system of government requires us to use money to obtain the things we need to survive.  We want to procreate because we have the instinct to do so.  Because we simply can't walk out and take the first mate we see, we have to do all sorts of elaborate rituals and adapt ourselves in a myriad of ways to attract a mate.

If broken down and studied, everything we do is derived from our primal instincts, but adapted to our environment based on what we have learned about how our world works.  A program would be able to do the same thing if it was able to learn and had predetermined "instincts".

Once completed, the same new virtual being could be given a robotic body like the ones being developed in Japan such as Asimo.  Or perhaps by then an even more advanced, more human looking robot could exist that could be used.  They would be able to absorb data instantly.  Things like math, science, history and literature could be built into their minds to be accessed at will.  

I think that the dawn of "Cybersapiens" (my own word I think) could be just around the corner and I welcome it.  Perhaps having another intelligent race to compete with would be good for us.  If they could indeed think creatively yet were capable of knowing any information instantly, they could advance our sciences at an exponential rate.  The better the science, the faster and more efficient they could become.  Their evolution would be on turbo and they could be the hand that guided their evolutions path.  If they didn't destroy or enslave us, they would be magnificent companions on the journey toward our own betterment and could facilitate the abolition of all that makes our world bad.



RetroPengo said...

I would also love to see an A.I. that was perfect, but according to research I did for a paper recently, it is an impossibility at this juncture. We simply cannot copy the sheer number of connections in the human brain with today's computing technology, and on top of that, our brains are trinary instead of binary (really from what i understand they can have any number of different states per neuron. I'll post the paper I wrote in the near future, it's pretty cool. I learned a lot about AI and everyone else might too.

It's an awesome dream though, but just one that is, sadly, quite a ways off. Now, having a robot that "mimics" human behavior is possible, but it would still be programmed to do such.

Ev said...

See, your falling into the same pitfall that so many do. Its not our massive brain or the amount of neurons and their connections that give us personality. A squirrel or even a goldfish can display personality and they lack the grey matter we possess. For that matter, elephants possess far more brain cells than us. In fact, it has been shown that feral humans, or children who never interact with other humans, have less developed brains than normal humans. This suggests that speech is key to the development of "intelligence". Without our complex system of communication, we would be nothing more than wild, hairless apes.

Along the same line of thought, crows have been observed to possess a complex system of communication. Its also worth noting that crows have also demonstrated tool use on a level beyond that of even chimpanzees. All of this suggests that sentience or "intelligence" has nothing to do with our brain size or complexity.

This in mind, I reiterate that I feel much of the field of AI is looking in the wrong direction. I feel that with todays technology and a program capable of learning we could develop an artificial intelligence within the confines of a virtual world without the need to develop computer systems as complex as the human neural network.

I believe that if given the right circumstances, the intelligence and personality that we associate with living creatures and human beings would arise on its own without the need of massive computational power.

O course, my views bring up some very powerful philosophical and religious issues. As I posed in my original post, "At what point is it alive? What makes us human? If a program can display creative thought and is self-aware, is it sentient?".

Who are we to claim a monopoly on intelligence? The only real feature that distinguishes us from the rest of the creatures on this planet is our compulsion to exist outside of equilibrium with our natural habitat. All other creatures find a niche in there environment and live in a state of balance with their surroundings. Humans display the qualities of a virulent or invasive species. As absurd as it may sound, I think that in a way, Christianity is to blame. Or religion in general. We have a belief that we are beyond nature. Outside of it. It's this belief, that we are God's greatest creations and that we are special and unique, that leads us to incredible arrogance. The same arrogance that led us to believe that the universe revolved around the earth leads us to believe that no other being could ever be as smart, creative or perfect as humans.

I always found it ironic that of all the creatures on the planet that we have discovered, the ones that come closest to humans in regards to our achievements are insects. Such as ants. Ants build cities, farm, wage war and take slaves. They build nations that any ancient human empire would be proud of yet possess not so much as a thousandth of a single percent of our brain matter. They do all this, and still manage to live in balance with their environment. Something even humans, with their superior intelligence has yet to accomplish.

Just food for thought. You can probably tell from my rant that I have a rather low opinion of mankind as a species. Perhaps its from a childhood spent reading X-Men LOL. It also might have something to do with my long fascination with doomsday prophecies. Like I always say, "The only way to make a better society is to utterly destroy the one that we have now." Thats the only way we can really have "Change" though I would like to see the world become a better place without cataclysmic upheaval, and do so within my lifetime.

RetroPengo said...

Yeesh, that isn't what I was saying at all Captain Defensive ;)

There's intelligence all around us, even trees are intelligent. I'm saying that we cannot form an A.I. with the capacity for both memory, learning capacity, the ability to reason and plan, and everything else that our amazing computers called brains can do without the same "type of circuitry" for lack of a better word.

You really shouldn't take an anthill view on humanity. Sure the strong survive, but you're falling into the classic Gundam Wing existential delimma. Destroying what we have will NOT make us stronger. If our society as we know it was obliterated, we would end up fading away. We would lose our technology and revert back to the fear of the dark ages. I for one, love my constant influx of info. I don't want to lose it.

Yes, humanity is a dirty, filthy, horrible virus on the planet, but you're part of that virus. I don't know any virus that would ever jump into a white blood cell just to see if it was strong enough. Don't rebel against your instincts so much ;) they're there for a reason. We are the weakest animal on the planet. Without knowledge and technology we'd still be scraping a living off of rocks and being eaten by tigers.


now you say it too. lol

I understand your viewpoint, I used to think that way too. But the simple fact is, I now follow my instincts, and they tell me to survive by any means possible.

By no means are we the only intelligent life on this planet, let alone this universe, but we are the only ones on the planet that have to consume resources to ensure that we don't perish. We don't have fur or claws. We have weak little jaw muscles. We can't climb like our monkey cousins can, so we have a hard time avoiding death.

Think about it sometime. :)

anyway, that's off the subject of A.I. Really we just can't have an intelligence that has the same capacity or potential as us without the same amount of connections. Everyone says humans only use 10% of their brains. That is true but skewed. Everyone forgets that we use the other 90% automatically. It is designed to run our bodies, keep our lungs compressing, keep our heart squeezing, keep every single little nerve ending awake for any sign of danger.

We are the ultimate in adapted survival. We could have an A.I. or a robot that can do everything we can, but could it have that many "nerve endings"? no.

And an A.I. that cannot feel pain nor understand what emotions are is NOT an A.I. that I want to meet.

RetroPengo: Hi SkyNet!

SkyNet: You are unnecessary *BLAM BLAM*

RetroPengo: BLARG! *dies*