The rise of artificial intelligence

It looks like artificial intelligence is back on the agenda. Technology has moved on sufficiently to make the breakthrough required a possibility. Interesting.

This begs two questions: What is artificial intelligence and; isn’t its development inevitable anyway?

I’ve always liked thinking and talking about evolution. It’s a fascinating subject and helps describe why we and every other creature do what we do. I would love to have said Hi to Darwin but feel he was misquoted. Evolution is not about survival of the fittest but rather the survival of the most adaptable. Perhaps his agent felt it wasn’t as snappy. Those species that survive are those who can adapt to the prevailing environmental conditions and pass this luck onto their subsequent generations. That is why humans are so successful, because we can adapt to nearly every environment that exists on earth and beyond.

Colleagues have said to me that it’s only a theory and because of its apparently mind-numbingly slow pace it’s sometimes hard to argue yet ask those who have to deal with drug resistant bacterial infection. This is evolution in action. New strains of bacteria appear that can survive where their buddies could not. The common cold stays common because it mutates constantly. Even diseases that we thought we had eradicated are making a comeback.

So what has this got to do with artificial intelligence? My argument is that this is just the next inevitable step in our own evolutionary journey. The phrase artificial intelligence implies a natural intelligence that has somehow been given. What I take it to mean is machine intelligence rather than biological intelligence but that doesn’t make it any less natural. Humans are developing by harnessing the laws of physics. All of our technologies have been born of our own biology and just because we have made them does not make them any less human or natural.

In the beginning there was physics then came chemistry and biology. Next came technology.

The world could only sustain a tiny fraction of the human population without technology. Everything we do is therefore artificial. There is no artificial intelligence, just intelligence. Humans are creating machines that are better, faster and smarter in order to stay ahead. It is this creation that sustains us as who we are. The future of human civilisation depends upon the inexorable development of new technologies that can pre-empt our needs, be self organising, learn from their mistakes and start to think for themselves.

So what happens next? Artificial intelligence will keep coming back to the agenda until it is cracked. One day machines will be created that can replicate themselves. To succeed they will need to perform better than their competitors or occupy niche applications and to do this they will need to evolve. This will inevitably lead to machines with gender (will that be artificial) through random mutations and they will then interbreed. Why, because that is the way life arrived on this planet and how it will survive long into the future. Once this happens there will be no stopping our creations and a new evolutionary wave will be unleashed.

This is not a dystopian view – far from it. This will not be an ugly world. It will be filled with all the beauty that the human soul can create. Finally we will be free of our flesh and because of artificial intelligence humans will have the opportunity to ride the wave of empathy and live until the end of all time.

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