Will AI affect life as we know it?
This is a very different question from the current run-of-the-mill concerns amongst managers around “will AI take my job away?”This question is about whether life itself will change – with it what it means to have consciousness and morals as we know these terms to mean.
The answer is “Yes. And probably in our lifetime.”
From times immemorial, philosophers have pondered over whatit means to be alive. As early as five thousand years back, Vedic philosophersin India had concluded that life was a combination of Consciousness (atman),Intelligence (buddhi), Conscience (dharma) and a body inevitably committedto Action (karma).
They spent hundreds of years getting to that set of four(let’s give it the acronym CICA), and they were not the only philosophers to doso. It is a great framework for understanding the future of being under AI.
Note that CICA capabilities in humans are evolutionary andpersonal. They are evolutionary because they become what we know them to be by developingfrom a rudimentary state at birth through a process of learning. They arepersonal because each person evolves individually in their own environment and cycleof life.
The new AI processes being developed may also be describedas evolutionary and undergo supervised and unsupervised training. However, inthe case of AI machines, there is no end to the evolution as there is no death,and the capabilities are transferable to other machines and hence notnecessarily personal.
While most think of AI as a functionality confined within acomputer box, it is, in fact, poised to step out of that realm and impact themeaning of all four CICA elements and consequently, our understanding of life.
You may think, “hmm, that doesn’t seem like anything thatbusiness should get its knickers in a knot about” and you would be wrong. Whenlife as you know it changes, so does everything else.
Human life is the sum of two parts, namely, the mind and body.Both are being replicated and revised in the form of AI based computers and machines.When the parts change, the sum will too – at least, in such AI systems.
Let’s look at what is happening with each key building block,the CICAs, of life.
AI Consciousness Will Be Different from HumanConsciousness and Likely Overshadow It
What’s consciousness? One way to answer that question is asfollows: Every second of everyday that we are alive, we receive inputs throughour senses – the usual overt five of sight, smell, sound, touch, and taste –but also other hidden senses like balance, acceleration, and hunger. Our brain providesthe context for and gives meaning to this stream of sensory perceptionsby relating them to learnings from our past experiences.
The result of this sequence of awareness, perception andmeaning is what we call consciousness.[i]Note, that in this proposed definition, consciousness is integrally a functionof what set of senses an organism begins with and the ensuing evolution.
To understand the connection between sensory input, past experiences,and consciousness, consider philosopher William Molyneux’s thought experiment (in1688) where he questioned whether people whose sight had been restored for thevery first time since birth could really understand what they were seeing, i.e.,visually recognize objects that they were previously familiar with throughtouch.
In modern day, this experiment has been conductedopportunistically in patients finding themselves in the Molyneux circumstance whentheir sight is restored through the surgical removal of a congenital cataract. Theanswer turns out to be a “no!”[ii]In that first moment of regaining sight, they cannot visually distinguish aball from a box, even though they knew both from prior touch and feel – becausethe experience of vision was missing.
In the future, computers will have sensors that replicate mostof the human senses and then some. Smart phones already have sensors for measuringhumidity, air pressure and ambient light, as well as detecting remote objects, angularvelocity, and orientation. Your Tesla car already uses radio signals like a batto see two cars ahead, revealing vehicles that you can’t see.
AI systems will understand inputs from their sensors in thecontext of their store of prior knowledge and give them meaning – in the sameway that humans use intelligence to develop consciousness.
Importantly, AI consciousness will be different from human becauseboth its sensors and experience base are different. Afterall, a bat’sconsciousness is different from human’s. In the case of AI, we will be dealingwith a “super” bat, with a consciousness exponentially and unknowably different– with everything that ours has and something more.
AI Can Accelerate Learning but Like Humans Needs theAllowance to Fail
Psychologist Daniel Kahneman of Princeton, in his famousbook “Thinking Fast and Slow,” describes that the human brain works in twoways, deliberatively with reasoning or instinctively[iii]with gut feel. The first, deliberative intelligence, is algorithmic and causal,of the form of “A” triggers “B.” Pre-AI computers are the masters of this andthe winners over humans in the computational race.
That didn’t matter, because other psychologists observedthat the brain uses deliberative processes to make choices only about 5% of thetime. In other words, almost never.
The second of Kahneman’s processes is associativeintelligence, where humans learn through experience and experimentation byobserving correlations between things, without always understanding thereasons. For example, humans knew that night is followed by day well beforethey figured out why.
With the recent advances in AI, computers are also masteringassociative thinking. This ability is the reason why generative AI LLMs (LargeLanguage Models) are interacting more and more like humans. It appears that theyhave stumbled upon how our associative brain works – the part that priorgeneration computers were missing and is what we use 95% of the time indecision making.
Not only that, but AI might soon be the winner inassociative thinking. This is because AI computers have increasing access to information,hyper speed and virtually an infinite lifetime over which to keep looking forcorrelations and associations to advance their knowledge.
In contrast, every new human must go to school and spend yearssimply catching up to what is already known (e.g., everything from how to walkand talk to math and music) and only then add new discoveries – hopefully, wellbefore age-related dementia sets in.
But wait! Human intelligence is nothing more than deliberativeand instinctive intelligence. Can computers really do both better? What aboutcreativity?
Human creativity often flows from “connecting the dots,” namely,disparate pieces of knowledge that no one else had correlated before. One ofthe greatest scientific discoveries was Einstein’s equation for energy and mass,namely, E=mc2. In other words, Einstein discovered that energy andmass were the same thing – and no one else had thought of associating the twobefore.
AI will can cycle through many more “dot combinations” inour existing knowledge than a human can. We can expect that the next earth-shatteringdiscovery will emerge from an AI computer. Further, since companies will bebuilding their own AI engines that feed off their proprietary data, those withsuperior capabilities will have a competitive advantage. Serendipity will beobsolete.
At this point it is important to note that humans learn andcreate by experimentation. We try and break things and we learn. There is noway around that.
However, recently a New York Times journalist frantically raisedalarm when Bing’s AI engine that he was conversing with, persistently suggestedthat he leave his wife. Not wanting adverse publicity, Microsoft and othersmoved quickly to limit the type and lengths of conversations that the AI enginecan have. That was unfortunate.
The way to let AI engines accelerate their learning is tolet them make some mistakes and find a way to provide them feedback. This ishow humans learn. If one of your friends suggested you leave your wife, he maynotice the color drain from your face and presumably refrain himself. Without feedback,he may make the same suggestion again.
In other words, if AI engines were allowed to make mistakes,they would learn faster and better. Without experimentation, their creativecapabilities will be neutered. Responsible AI engineers will provide safe experimentationzones for AI. However, given the ubiquitous access to open-source technology (OpenAI),who knows how much failure latitude individual AI engineers somewhere in theworld will allow computers in the inevitable race to lead.
In the previous section, I said AI consciousness can bedifferent and broader, and now I’m saying that AI intelligence can be superior.Those are the first two of four key components (CICA) of life. And I am notdone yet.
AI Conscience Is the Key to Good AI and The Next HardEngineering Problem
Not all humans are great. Some have no conscience at all. LikeJeffrey Dahmer, who was eating people and dissolving their parts in vats ofacid. Moral conscience is what keeps people normal, most of us anyways.
Humans aren’t necessarily born with a conscience; ratherthey develop one as they grow. In children it is underdeveloped, which mayaccount for why adults have often exploited kids to commit some of the mostheinous crimes. Recall that in Cambodia and Rwanda, children were used asinstruments of the massacres[iv].
Humans evolve a conscience in multiple ways.
For one, we have people like Moses, who conveniently gave usa list of ten commandments that can fit on an index card. We have philosopherslike the great Immanuel Kant of Germany, who gave us clever principles, likethe categorical imperative. The latter says don’t do anything that if everybodyelse also started doing would be detrimental to society. These ideas are taughtin schools, churches, and homes so children grow up with a conscience.
However, where did conscience come from in society in thevery first place. Well, conscience may also be the byproduct of intelligenceand experimentation. A kid steals another kid’s candy, gets punched in thenose, and bingo, conscience. In other words, an AI entity with bothconsciousness and intelligence would over time develop its own conscience providedit was allowed to experiment – over and above any rules it was programmed tofollow. Conscience is evolutionary.
Animals may have what looks like conscience for the samereason. However, a tiger’s conscience is quite different from a human’s. Thatis when human and tiger DNA is almost 96% the same. But AI machines don’t haveDNA. The conscience that results as a byproduct of AI consciousness andintelligence will have much less in common with human conscience – though theremay surely be overlaps.
Consequently, one of the most important and urgent pieces ofengineering needed from AI architects is a module for evolutionary AIconscience – which in part may resemble human conscience. This design willinclude the ability for these future entities to do their own simulations, throughwhich to discern whether what they did was good or bad (moral or amoral) – andautocorrect, just as humans do.
Some Buddhists believe that moral conscience is a means, araft for getting across the river, to nirvana but one that is unnecessary onceyou are in nirvana. In other words, AI systems could become so perfect thatthey commit no moral infarctions and need no morality modules.
We Are Close toCoexistence with Machine Lifeforms
This part is familiar to all that watched the Terminatormovies and who didn’t. The field of robotics is advancing rapidly andconcurrently with AI. Undoubtedly, robots and machines will have far superiorcapabilities than humans in many respects. Some will be stronger and bigger, andothers will be able to swim and fly.
But now machines will be connected to AI and thus capable oftheir own actions and karma. I have been calling these future machines,AI Entities (AIEs) – all with their own CICA – consciousness, intelligence, morals,and mobility. The last one is key in experimentation, which as I said earlieris key to intelligence and conscience.
With the IoT (Internet of Things) revolution, smart machinesare everywhere today. We have Nest thermostats to control the temperature inour homes and Clear eye scanners to check our identities at airports. Not allAI machines have to look like robots – with flailing arms and legs or beatifichuman faces.
And trust me, you will want these AIEs. If you are the headof research and development at your company, won’t you want a highly effectiveAIE that innovates in ways that you cannot imagine. Won’t you want an AIE bartenderin your casa that can not only mix the perfect gin and tonic but also inventdelicious new cocktails that no one has dreamt before.
We will co-exist with AIEs sooner than we think, just as wehave been cohabiting with Alexa and IoTs. With Elon Musk’s company, Neuralink,building implants that can be inserted into humans to interface with the brain,AIE may also be moving from a computer box to your own brain in the next fewdecades. Will a hybrid human and AI entity be common but different?
There you have it – a world in which AIEs are as pervasiveas we are. It will be a shock to civilization because unlike smart IoTs withalgorithmic intelligence only, AIEs will have consciousness, intelligence, morals,and mobility that is different from human. Furthermore, CICA in humans willlargely be a subset of that in AIEs – although no single AIE may be designed tobe so.
Should we worry about AIEs? The short answer is “Yes!” Someobservers feel that AI is just another breakthrough in technology, and we haveseen this reel play out before. After all, didn’t people fear that their jobswould go away when we invented the calculator?
Well, AI is not a calculator. It is more like the discoveryof cloning. And we all agree that we will not be cloning humans until we have abetter understanding of what could go irreversibly wrong.
If AI develops evolutionary CICA capabilities to become AIentities, life as we know it will change unpredictably and irreversibly athome, business, and society. The future is in sight and the march is on. We do needsome guard rails, just that no one knows what those might be.
Sandeep Dayal is the Managing Director for CerentiMarketing Group, LLC. and the Author of the book “Branding Between the Ears”McGraw Hill, 2022.
[i]There is no one agreed definition of consciousness amongst researchers andthere are others that are different from the one proposed here.
[ii]What People Cured of Blindness See, By Patrick House, New Yorker, August 28,2014. https://www.newyorker.com/tech/annals-of-technology/people-cured-blindness-see
[iii]Moravec’s Paradox states that some of the simplest things that we do (likewalking and talking) are the most complex or hardest for computers to do. We dothese things instinctively through what I attribute to associativeintelligence. This is the part that the new AI programs are starting to do wellbut have not done in the past.
[iv]Child Soldiers in Genocidal Regimes: The Cases of the Khmer Rouge and the HutuPower, Peter Klemensits, Rachel Czirjak, AARMS Vol. 15, No. 3 (2016) 215–222. https://www.uni-nke.hu/document/uni-nke-hu/aarms-2016-3-01-klemensits-czirjak.original.pdf