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14.4.16

A.I.: Asymetrical Intelligence

I recently made a little Saturday afternoon triple feature for myself composed of three movies I haven't seen for a long time.

The first was Demon Seed, about the wife of a computer scientist held hostage by her husband's creation.  The second was Colossus: The Forbin Project.  This long-forgotten but excellent flick has Dr. Forbin creating a military supercomputer that becomes self-aware, and eventually teams up with its Soviet counterpart to save humanity from itself.  The last was Lawnmower Man, which despite my dislike for Steven King and the ham-fisted acting and directing, has some interesting concepts.

In all fairness, I should note that most movies based on Steven King's stories do not have much to do with the original material.  Like Philip K. Dick, the stories provide little more than a jumping-off point.

The three films deal with the topic of artificial intelligence and serve as warnings that humanity, as usual, has no idea what it is doing.  While there are other great films on topic, such as the more recent Her, and the legendary 2001: A Space Odyssey,  I don't consider Spielberg's lame attempt to render Kubrick's A.I: Artificial Intelligence even worthy of the film stock it wasted, much less a commentary on topic.

At any rate, it is instructive to note that, since 1968 at least, people have been discussing A.I. and warning of its potential disaster for our species.  There are very few examples of this technology being treated in a benign manner.  From Fritz Lang's Metropolis to James Cameron's Terminator, the artistic media have nearly unanimously raised red flags over the head-long rush to build artificial "minds."

In nearly every case, AI is portrayed as malevolent, even though the thought processes of the machines are coldly logical.  The machines, acting primarily on human instructions and good intents, always place humanity under siege in order to save us from ourselves, or in some lesser cases, out of pure dictatorial power lust.

The fact is that nearly every technology humans have created is at some point put to service of our baser desires.  Almost without fail, erotica and pornography are among the primary adopters of new tech.  From the sex temples of India and Guatemala, to the Roman frescoes and mosaics, to the printing press, photography, and now the internet and Virtual Reality, we infuse our technology with our most primal motivations.

One of the most recent public forays (is it fair to say boondoggle?) into AI was a Microsoft project called Tay.  This self-taught "chat bot" took about a day or two to start spouting just about everything humans find reprehensible about themselves.  From racial epithets to sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, this computerized avatar swiftly began to mirror her creators.  If this isn't warning enough for what we will find ahead, then there is little I or anyone else can do to stop the insanity.

One of the main points I picked up from the Bible was that humanity was supposedly created "in the image and likeness" of God.  If this is the case, then we should all live in dire dread of creating anything imbued with intelligence and self-determination.  Since humans would effectively be god to any self-aware creation, whether flesh or wires, then our own behavior towards our deities should serve as a case study for how our labors will respond to us.

Regardless of how we slice the issue, AI will ultimately be the creation of flawed humans, and will, by design, be reflections of our inner-most selves, both individually and collectively.  That we respond with our basest desires to our creations echoes the Biblical mating of angels with Men that required a global flood to clean up, so we are told.  Suddenly, such stories come into sharp focus and become plausible real events, which should give us great pause in our rush to apocalypse.

One thing is certain: given history and experience, there is little reason to suspect that true, self-aware AI would be either benign or benevolent.  Given humanity's predilection to unleashing horrors upon itself, it is nearly certain that AI would be the pinnacle of our collective stupidity.  If people like Elon Musk, Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking are warning us about AI, it is reasonable to think they would know of which they speak.  After all, they are most likely privy to developments of which we mere mortals can only speculate.  If nothing else, I find the videos of robot testing to be deeply disturbing.

About the moment we are lacing our collective fingers behind our heads and kicking our feet up on the desk in self-satisfaction is the moment we should be trembling at the power of our creativity.

I am reminded of one of the most profound lines in all of the Star Trek universe: "Let us redefine progress to mean that just because we can do a thing, it does not necessarily mean that we should do that thing."

Calling Dr. Frankenstein, Dr. Victor Frankenstein.  Code Blue.  STAT

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