Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

“Ever since I was a teenager,” says Max Tegmark, “I felt that the two greatest mysteries of science were the mystery out there, our universe, and the mystery in here, in our heads, the mind.”  

In this interview, Ariel Conn (of Future of Life Institute), talks with Tegmark — MIT physics professor and author of Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligenceabout these mysteries relative to being human and the future of AI.  “We’ve traditionally thought of intelligence as something mysterious that can only exist in biological organisms, especially as humans…” says Tegmark.

[But from my perspective as a physicist, intelligence is simply a certain kind of information processing performed by elementary particles moving around. There’s no law of physics that says that we can’t build machines more intelligent than us in all ways. That makes intelligence in AI incredibly important because it suggests that we’ve only seen the tip of the intelligence iceberg, and that there’s amazing potential to unlock the full intelligence that’s latent in nature, and to use it to help humanity either flourish or flounder.

I think if we succeed in building machines that are smarter than us in all ways, it’s going to be either the best thing ever to happen to humanity or the worst thing. I’m optimistic that we can create a great future with AI, but it’s not going to happen automatically. It’s going to require that we really think things through in advance, and really have this conversation now. – Max Tegmark


Why?  Because the  implications of AI are serious.  AI has increasingly become part of our everyday lives (and to some extent) our everyday identities.  Where its (and by virtue us are) headed should be scrupulously analyzed.  Consider, for example, consciousness — a subject which continues to perplex researchers from all fields, not just those involved in AI research.  What is consciousness?  How does it relate to our experiences in the world?  How does it contribute to our sense of meaning? 

“As far as I’m concerned,” says Tegmark, “it’s not our universe giving meaning to us, it’s we conscious beings giving meaning to our universe. That’s where meaning comes from. If there’s nobody experiencing anything, our whole cosmos just goes back to being a giant waste of space. I think it’s going to be very important for these various reasons to understand what it is about information processing that gives rise to what we call consciousness.”  What if in the near future, he asks:

[…We] start creating cyborgs or maybe we have intelligent beings that we view in some sense as our descendants – that we’re very proud of what they can do, they have our values, and they go out and do all these great things that we couldn’t do, we feel proud of them as our children – that whole positive outlook would get completely ruined if you also happened to know that they’re actually zombies and don’t experience anything, because then if we humans eventually go extinct and our legacy is continued by them, but there’s nobody experiencing anything. It’s as if our whole universe had died for all intents and purposes. – Max Tegmark

To listen to the full interview click the play button above or read/view the full transcript here.

SIDEBAR:  As we move full-steam ahead into the future, we must consider not only the “what if’s” and”why’s”, but also (and perhaps, most importantly) reasons why we ought or ought not stay on this train and (gulp) how to maneuver the AI train if deboarding is no longer possible. For more on these sorts of questions, listen to some of our past philosophy symposiums on some of the less obvious ethical implications of AI and the human spirit and our upcoming third installment in the symposium series, “Vulnerable Humanity: Predictable Machines” on November 8th, 2017!

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