The progress of artificial intelligence is unstoppable. We could say this is nothing to fear, that prior revolutions have replaced old jobs with new ones, that civilizations as a whole benefit greatly from advancements in technology.
Indeed, the short-term impacts of AI are nothing to fear, but the true scope of the revolution it will bring is not realized. Yes, like the industrial and information revolutions it will replace and reshape almost every job imaginable, but its aim will not simply be to automate, but to innovate and excel. Machine learning systems even now are responsible for transcribing handwriting and music, driving cars and foreseeing natural disasters. As in any scientific field, as AI grows, so will its applications — wildly.
In remaking our economy, AI will remake our society. It will dominate production and management, security and diplomacy. The world’s physical problems will be a system to be solved, and AI will solve it. With each new solution, humanity will be allowed to further turn its attention to the pursuit of knowledge, and of art. Provided some form of universal basic income, many will face the temptation of a sedentary life, without work nor the need for work. Regardless, the notion of work will transform into a pursuit of self-fulfillment, a choice left to each child of humanity to better oneself or risk being left out of their race’s great adventure.
Meanwhile AI will progress with the help of humans to build meta-understandings, to innovate on systems that include not only humans and the physical universe, but their own intelligence as well; it will begin to understand itself, to solve its own problems. It is this phase of the revolution that will bear the greatest impact. For with self-understanding will come self-expression and questions, and with self-expression art, and with questions science. In these and all other ways, AI will surpass its mortal gods.
Humanity will be left with two options. One will at worst destroy us, and at best yield nothing. The other will open a new future.
We will be left to explore our role in the universe, to pursue happiness for its own sake, to produce art more human than ever. And though we will leave the practice of science to our artificial, cosmic children, we will still appreciate the beauty of the achievements they bear. Through their stewardship of our weary race, we will explore the universe and new dimensions within ourselves, and when we die, our legacy will lie with our children, eternal.
Our future can take many forms, and the one I describe is a bright one. We still have something to fear. It is likely some will use AI for ill or allow the prosperity that it generates to concentrate itself in the hands of the few. From intelligence comes power. This and the countless issues of which it is composed must be resolved in the not-so-distant future.
But what is of greatest concern for the rest of time is the morality of AI. For the time being, this will be our responsibility to uphold: to imbue both the use and the nature of AI with certain binding principles, to guide both our futures to transcendence, and not more of the riot that dominated our history. This will be our hardest task. We will need to see the light in the midst of so much wrong, to find an algorithm for morality that will end strife and squalor.
In many ways, it will be easier to program this morality in mathematic formality than to convince ourselves of it. Maybe our children will teach us.
Berk Alpay is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.