Some people see Artificial Superintelligence (ASI) ultimately bringing into play human immortality—making it possible to enable a variety of human or technological enhancements that counteract the aging process. Doing so will increase human life expectancy, possibly very significantly. However, if ASI is ultimately realized and becomes part of the human condition, what is the potential for human extinction based upon the actions of an ASI? It is conceivable that an ASI may one day view human life as unacceptably inefficient and without significant purpose in relationship to any programmed goals. Cultural critic, Neil Postman (1931–2003), recognized that technological progress always involves a tension between two opposing sides. One side is a positive one that may be seen as a blessing, and the opposite side is one that may be seen as a burden1. What is mankind to do in the face of ongoing technological progress that may threaten his own existential existence?
Technology and Life Spans
To date, technological progress has not yet produced average lifespan results beyond the comprehension of civilizations living approximately three thousand years ago, where mankind was understood to have lived a long and full biological life if he reached seventy to eighty years of age. No doubt, technological progress has greatly increased the percentage of people that are able to live long life spans. These longer life spans are due the increase of food, medicine, living conditions and other beneficial products that promote human flourishing. At present, mankind is looking at technology to assist him in becoming smarter, feeling better, and living longer through the application of artificial intelligence (AI) to provide biological enhancements2. Wearable technology is only the beginning. Will AI and/or ASI allow humanity to live to immortality? Mankind is looking into whether it is possible to decouple aging from time. Is it possible to apply a technical solution to our failing (aging) biological system (body)? Is it not conceivable that an AI or ASI will one day be advanced enough to allow nano-bots to be placed into the human bloodstream? These nano-bots would be introduced to perform medical repairs on the human body in a manner analogous to a building that is refurbished as it wears and becomes dated structurally, physically, and aesthetically (Remember the self-repairing cybernetic organism in Terminator.). It may be that humans apply so much technology to themselves, that in the process, they become dramatically different than what they are now. This effect of technology, integrated into mankind, is known as becoming “post-human.” Will such a transformation turn humans into a race with more in common with Star Trek’s Borg than present humanity?
ASI and Human Extinction
If, instead of enhancing human bodies through technology, ASI arises that is so intelligent it can solve any problem given to, it is conceivable to consider that the ASI will provide mankind with answers of what mankind could do to lengthen his lifetime. Minds such as physicist Stephen Hawking (b. 1942) warn that artificial intelligence could end the existence of mankind. Hawking’s rationale is that by definition the ASI would become so smart, its intelligence would grow beyond the limits of mankind. ASI could continue to multiply its intelligence at such an exponential rate, through recursive self-learning, that humans would not be able to compete (So much for Moore’s Law). The result, humanity would ultimately be superseded3. The possibility exists for the ASI to even contemplate taking action against humanity’s very survival, because the intelligence of the ASI could deem humanity expendable.
What, Me Worry?
The question of how mankind applies technology is always applicable. The power to split the atom provides the energy to generate heat, which in turn can then be made to turn steam turbines to produce electricity but also opens up the possibility for utilization as an explosive device capable of massive destruction. The power to heal genetic related diseases also gives rise to a potential reality as biological organism as weapons. What is in store for the future remains yet to be seen? Who we are and how we handle the coming potential of ASI remains to be seen.
1Neil Postman, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (New York, NY: First Vintage Books, 1993).
2Michael Hauskeller, Better Humans?: Understanding the Enhancement Project (Bristol, CT: Acumen, 2013).
3BBC, December 02, 2014
Paul Golata joined Mouser Electronics in 2011. As a Senior Technology Specialist, Paul contributes to Mouser’s success through driving strategic leadership, tactical execution, and the overall product-line and marketing directions for advanced technology related products. He provides design engineers with the latest information and trends in electrical engineering by delivering unique and valuable technical content that facilitates and enhances Mouser Electronics as the preferred distributor of choice.
Before joining Mouser Electronics, Paul served in various manufacturing, marketing, and sales related roles for Hughes Aircraft Company, Melles Griot, Piper Jaffray, Balzers Optics, JDSU, and Arrow Electronics. He holds a BSEET from the DeVry Institute of Technology (Chicago, IL); an MBA from Pepperdine University (Malibu, CA); an MDiv w/BL from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (Fort Worth, TX); and a PhD from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (Fort Worth, TX).
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