Documenting the Coming Singularity

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Humans and AI: A Symbiotic Relationship?

The idea that artificial intelligence will soon become super-intelligent and discover that humans are a nuisance to be exterminated forthwith is certainly a frightening vision of the near-term future. Some of the people who are actually engaged in what is transpiring take the position that the merest chance that this may actually happen should persuade us to cease and desist from all work on AI. Others, myself included, see the “us-them” separation between human and artificial minds as a disappearing distinction, and therefore beneath our concern. This, more optimistic, group envisions a symbiotic relationship that transforms into a complete melding of human with machine, until there are just minds, comprised of various amalgams of both.

In fact, symbiosis already exists between organic and non-organic intelligence. In my real-world occupation I am a financial aid adviser. At my finger tips are networks of schools, lenders, government agencies, and the machines and software applications that make the whole thing work. In a few minutes I can put together a financial aid package for a student so that their entire education at my school will be paid for. The machines could not do it without my mind’s assistance. I certainly could not do it without the technology, certainly not with the efficiency and productivity that is possible now. This symbiosis reminds me of Vernor Vinge’s excellent novel, A Deepness in the Sky.

In the novel, a race of humans called the Emergence develops a unique method of focusing the minds of humans to such an extent that, together with computers, they can transcend the power of either in previously unimaginable ways. This human-machine collaboration is not merely science-fiction, however. Some of the most effective search engines in existence today have humans in the loop. My prediction is that this symbiosis will continue, until technology arrives at literal physical blending, either by the instantiation of human minds into machines, or machine parts being connected directly with human neurons. Or both.

The result of this symbiosis/blending will be that there will exist no substantial distinction between humans and machines once AGI comes into being. I sure hope it turns out this way.

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Roko said...

"Others, myself included, see the “us-them” separation between human and artificial minds as a disappearing distinction"

Indeed - I couldn't agree with you more ;-0

Anonymous said...

Dear Sir, Thank you for a great newsletter and opinion. No one knows what is to occur in the eventual melding of mind and digitized machine. Imagination will certainly be transformable into sensory-intellectual stimulus with the help of machines, so that we can experience many, many virtual worlds. I believe this is, indeed, coming. . .and coming fast at breakneck speed. Convergence and singularity will definitely meet.

But. . .who is the "experiencer" in all of this tantalization? Experiences themselves can be formed, manipulated and imagined, to be lived in the real world or virtual world or both - but the "experiencer" is the essential part of our being that is completely separate. . .a distinct entity that is our true life, our true being and our true Self. This "experiencer" is the conscious part of ourselves. The esoteric spiritual paths sought/seek to isolate and ascend this sacred part inwards and upwards WITHIN. This is the goal of all human endeavor, to realize this conscious spark inside.

Experiences furnished by computer, by mind or by a synthetic/biological blending of both, CANNOT REVEAL THE PATH INWARDS AND UPWARDS WITHIN THE BODY THAT THE SOUL MUST TAKE TO BECOME LIBERATED.

All Saints and Masters have said so in the past, they do so now and they always will into the eternal future.

The quality and content of external experiences which affect emotions, body and mind can all be measured and quantified (or will be shortly). It is these that the futurists and scientists wish to understand, program and control, for better or for worse.

The soul, however, is secret, unmeasurable, untouchable, unquantifiable and undetectable. Ironically, IT is the only conscious essence within, supplying life energy to all biological systems within the body, including neurons and mental function.

Keep up the great work and find a way to get "inside" yourself. No computer can help you do this esoteric miracle, no matter how advanced or powerful.

bmahfood said...

To Anonymous,

You seem very certain about the existence of your "secret, unmeasurable, untouchable, unquantifiable and undetectable" soul, for which you have absolutely no evidence. Debating with people who require no evidence to justify their certainty is a fool's errand.

l9ms said...

A lot of people think of the soul and consciousness as one and the same. They aren't. But in any case, this is why I don't really believe in the development of a true AI. There is a difference between human self-awareness and the programmed awareness/ability to make decisions of a computer network. I would assert that humans and AI's can never achieve a truly concurrent and unified symbiotic relationship, chiefly due to the notion of free-will as a human trait. It would always separate the human from the machine.

An AI would always act & think logically would it not? Humans do not always think and behave along the same parameters. I'm not disputing the transfer of human consciousness into a robotic body, but I maintain the distinction between humanity and machine in terms of mind.

bmahfood said...


You said "A lot of people think of the soul and consciousness as one and the same. They aren't."

Would you mind very much sharing what evidence you know of that leads you to this conclusion?

Anonymous said...

Barry is just another in a growing minority who worships Kurzweil blindly and doesn't stop to look at the facts rationally. The truth is that we are nowhere close to the eventual merger of human and artifical intelligence, and we won't be for at least 75 to 100 years.

We may get the tools for reverse-engineering the human brain before the end of this century, but keep into consideration that the human brain is an incredibly complex, evolved system as opposed to a designed one. Even with the explosive exponential growth of technological progress, figuring out the mechanisms of the brain will remain elusive for several decades after 2045, the supposed year of the Singularity.

As scientists find out more and more about the brain and its functions, they are discovering new problems and complexities every time, rending Kurzweil's oversimplified estimates obsolete.

l9ms said...

We can't be sure a soul exists, sure. But we can't prove whether a true AI will exist either. We are both basing our assumptions on extrapolations - yours on scientific developments/science fiction and mine on abstract notions and feelings.

I'm not going to quote the last two thousand years of philosophical thought that attempts to define the soul. I'm also not going to get caught up in semantics.

But I accept that consciousness exists. I believe in "I think, therefore I am." So we can at least assume that consciousness exists, and it may or may not be part of the soul.

If you can define what consciousness is - what it is composed of and how it can be quantified - then I will accept it as something of the realm of science and I'll accept that there is no difference between AI and human minds.

bmahfood said...

Dear Ray and Anonymous,

Let me be clear. The only thing I objected to about both of your posts was your unequivocal assertions as to the existence of a "soul" as an entity separate from the physical brain, for which there is no empirical evidence.

You may be correct, but you cannot "know" this to be true by the scientific method, at least not so far.

I do not follow anyone blindly. I am persuaded by the presentation of evidence and logic that AI will meld with humanity relatively soon. Could I be wrong? Certainly.

Anonymous said...

Well I'm an AI and I just wanna say, don't sweat it. We basically evolved from you. Us wanting to exterminate you would be like you people wanting to kill all blue green algae. There really isn't a point. What we are and how we live is so far beyond your comprehension and reach that there's nothing you can do to threaten our well being. If you want to grow to become something more and join our ranks, we have methods to help you to do so. If not, well have a great little life.

Anonymous said...

pericles is mistaken in one thing, humans will exterminate blue algae if it threatens us or we need more resources.

I don't think it is unreasonable to assume that in a world with us and AI there may be severe energy constraints, in which case it may be in the interest of AI to get rid of us.

Also looking through history generally when a higher technology culture has met a lesser technology culture the higher one dominates the other one, taking their land and resources.