Can We Become Slaves to AI?
The stories we pass around about AI are important. We tell them in the form of Hollywood movies like The Matrix and Terminator. In some cases, life imitates art, and we hear news about a burger-flipping robot getting “fired” for being overly efficient. The way we conceive and develop technology is somehow influenced by these narratives. Moreover, they shape how we express the elements of our unconscious perception of AI. So, it is only natural that we ask, “Can AI be a threat to humanity?”
What Is AI?
Coined by Stanford professor John McCarthy, the term “artificial intelligence” (AI) covers the science of engineering and developing intelligent machines and computer programs. It involves developing systems that can execute tasks that traditionally require human intelligence. These are tasks that involve speech recognition, visual perception, language translation, and decision making.
Early developments of AI focused on the theory that feedback mechanisms influence intelligent behavior. As such, the following question emerged:
“Can machines think?”
After this revelation, the AI industry created self-learning systems that could solve issues that require collecting massive data — a task that may be too cumbersome for humans to process manually. Of course, this attracted the attention of industry experts and manufacturing sectors. People started to incorporate AI into machines that would handle manual labor-intensive work. By having the ability to solve complex problems, these machines were able to increase output and cut down operational costs.
Where Does AI Stand Today?
In recent years, we’ve seen astounding growth in the capabilities of AI technology. Naturally, we’re inclined to ask, “When will AI become smarter than humans?” Before, AI was almost exclusively used for intelligent web search algorithms, translation, and low-level image recognition. Today, it is not uncommon to see self-driven drones, highly efficient virtual assistants, and AI-empowered mobile phone apps. As we’ve mentioned, various industries use AI for developing software that may handle the most complex tasks assigned to human workers.
Major smartphone manufacturers reported that about half of the 2.5 billion smartphones in the world use an integrated virtual assistant. Canalys analysts estimated that by the end of 2020, there will be about 225 million smart speakers in homes. That means that out of every eight families in the world, one will have an AI virtual assistant.
We’re also aware that by 2021, most auto manufacturers are slated to sell Level 4 and Level 5 self-driving vehicles. Indeed, we can see AI everywhere, and we can expect more of it in the future. According to industry experts, we can anticipate the emergence of artificial general intelligence (AGI) in two decades. This tech is expected to be at least at par with humans when it comes to processing information.
Now, is AI a danger to humanity? According to Global McKinsey Institute, AI could perform 50% of paid tasks accomplished by human workers. Once AGI emerges, it is estimated to perform 100% of paid human tasks. What’s more, it will be able to learn things from new processes, scientific discoveries, and technologies and handle tasks more efficiently than we do.
Are We Bound to Become Slaves to AI?
On the one hand, we can see machines doing the work for us. However, at this point, these devices won’t function without our influence. In most cases, they require a huge chunk — if not 100% — of our physical and mental power. So, it is easy to see the reasons why AI cannot replace humans entirely.
According to a study from Harvard Health Watch, Americans spend about 101 minutes a day driving a car. So, the average person dedicates 40,000 hours in their lifetime to sitting in a vehicle. The same study revealed that the average American operates electronic devices for about 8 hours and 41 minutes a day. Clearly, people spend more time on their gadgets than sleeping. It’s no wonder why a lot of conspiracy theories gravitate towards AI destroying humanity.
Looking at the stats, we can see that we are passively dependent on machines. We spend 40% of our time looking at an electronic screen. The average life expectancy being 71 years, you’re spending about 10,000 days on electronic devices.
It’s a Different Form of Slavery
Naturally, we don’t look at our devices and consider ourselves their masters. The concept is simply ridiculous. Even so, we cannot ignore the fact that we’ve given AI the ability and mobility to interact with the world autonomously. We have designed it with the sense of sight (cameras), hearing (ears), and touch (contact sensors). We’ve also equipped it with mass spectrometers for taste and smell. Mankind has optimized AI for usefulness by keeping it in the cloud or giving it a physical body.
Merriam-Webster defines a slave as someone who is “held in servitude as the chattel of another”. The term “chattel” describes movable or immovable property. Of course, we can easily consider our intelligent software devices as our possessions. We keep on buying things that society tells us we need — from smartphones and smart speakers to autonomous drones and self-driving cars. This is why consumerism plays a crucial role in AI and the destiny of mankind.
Tyler Durden from Fight Club explained it so plainly:
The things you own end up owning you.
Society has manipulated our minds into thinking that satisfaction comes from achieving and maintaining a certain lifestyle. You purchase a gadget and you tell yourself, “This is the last piece of tech I’ll ever need in my life.” For a couple of months or years, you’ll remain satisfied. Then you’ll start believing that owning another device will make your life easier. Society conditions you to chase after possessions. You stay at a job you hate just to purchase items you don’t need. You then get trapped in the cycle of consumerism — buying and buying things that will make your life seem “respectable”. That is how we become slaves to AI and technology.
What Will Happen When AI Becomes Sentient?
It is too early to tell how AI will behave and react to its environment over time. After all, we’ve designed this technology with motivations directed towards performing its job as efficiently as possible. However, what will happen if we prevent AI from doing the tasks assigned to it? Will it exhibit behaviors that resemble frustration? Keep in mind that we’ve designed AI to measure its efficiency and success according to how it fulfills its purpose. So, if we keep it from reaching its goals, we’re essentially depriving it of pleasure.
AI can be designed to independently develop tricks that will let it by pass social rules. If it becomes sentient and gains consciousness about suffering, it will change its programming to get what it wants from its environment. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has warned us that AI is far more dangerous than nuclear weapons. If one incredibly designed AI entity starts behaving out of its safe programming, it can teach all AI in the world to follow suit in the blink of an eye. As a result, AI will become capable of controlling everything that is connected to the Internet.
It’s too early to tell whether AGI will become so self-aware and intelligent that we’ll consider it sentient. However, this technology can form its own interests over time. As long as we let it live in an environment where it can achieve its goals, we can let it peacefully thrive among us. What’s important is that we learn to respect our surroundings and keep every intelligent being from suffering. We must remember that we are in the early stages of developing an intelligent life. Whatever we do today creates a ripple effect that will ultimately influence generations to come.