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Fred Shahrabani
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What humans worry about when we worry about AI

If the real threat of artificial intelligence is that it's too much like us, we need to embark on an urgent moral journey

The future of artificial general intelligence and its profound implications for humanity has ignited passionate debate worldwide. We don’t know what direction this breakthrough technology will take, and we don’t know how to contain it.

In a world where survival of the fittest in its rawest form still prevails and where trust is an elusive commodity, entities and nations cannot rely on each other to cease development when supremacy in the AI race bestows unimaginable powers to the winners.

Prominent tech leaders (Microsoft hinting, in recent weeks, at “sparks of intelligence“) and influential thinkers and scientists, including Stephen Hawking in 2014, have issued warnings about the reasonable possibility of highly advanced systems eventually achieving sentience and self-awareness.

While there is no definitive proof that this can be realized, merely contemplating such a development forces us to view ourselves from a radically different perspective – one where our intelligence no longer represents the zenith of intelligence on this planet.

As the supreme planetary species, through different avenues of thought and action, we established it as our right to exploit the environment, deplete forests, subjugate the animal kingdom. We have also permitted ourselves to persecute one another based on countless physical and sociocultural traits including race, color, religion, gender, nationality, ethnicity, outlook, etc…

Ironically, now, our greatest nightmare is that AI will resemble us in all our flawed humanity, only vastly more intelligent; and that survival of the fittest – supremacy of the fittest – will find its way into its programming, its DNA.

We would have to confront the unnerving possibility of no longer being at the top of the food chain – a perilous position to be in given humanity’s track record. We haven’t been very kind to beings lower down the hierarchy, and for that matter, to any other species on planet earth, and now we must envision the possibility of being subjugated to new AI overlords in a fashion similar to our reign on earth. It’s like an episode from Planet of the Apes and we’re the apes. Or like 2001: A Space Odyssey except that it is us pleading for survival with an ascendant HAL 9000.

If we must find a way to program or implore a new superior being – the new kid in town – to be so dissimilar from us, what does that tell us about ourselves? 

Shouldn’t this be among the paramount discussions taking place around the world?

Shouldn’t we be morally repulsed by the double standard in favor of ourselves that AI exposes?

By having gained a heightened awareness of this potential dystopian future, a mirror image of our own actions turned against us, we must utilize this general insight to confront the manner in which we treat both our fellow beings and our environment. The point is fear of AI is not the endpoint. The endpoint must be navigating through that fear to where we can inhabit the moral landscape we wish to bestow on AI.

This moral journey must cause us to examine our ingrained assumptions along with the philosophical and theological justifications we often rely on to excuse our behaviors. 

Looking ahead, it may be that one of the profound impacts of AI, regardless of its ultimate trajectory, is to spark a genuine moral revolution in how we perceive ourselves and our role in the world.

About the Author
Fred was raised and educated in Tehran. He hails from a family of Iraqi Jews who fled Iraq, and subsequently, in the wake of the the 1979 Islamic Revolution, fled Iran. His parents spent formative years in Israel. As Arab Jews and Zionists who experienced the generosity of Moslem culture, and in particular the high spirit, hospitality, and graciousness afforded them in Iran, his perspective is formed by many of the historic events that engulfed the region.
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