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22nd October 2015

Is our pursuit of A.I. as intelligent as we think?

With artificial intelligence becoming more and more sophisticated, Ed John fears that we are undermining human experience

Throughout the last decade, we have seen unprecedented, and perhaps to some, unimaginable technological growth. With each year that goes by, the power and influence technology possesses grows at a rate unseen in any other industry.

Whether it be for the social, economic or medicinal aspects of our lives, it is undeniable that we are rapidly heading for an existence in which we are rarely detached from technology’s influence. Whilst this growth and expansion has it indisputable benefits, are we really ready for the world which we seem so desperate to attain?

For the past few decades, science fiction has enabled us a glimpse into the future of technology and how it impacts our lives. From Ridley Scott’s dystopian and pessimistic look at our relationship with artificial intelligence in Blade Runner, to Spike Jonze’s Her—which takes a less noir approach to what it would mean to fall in love with an intelligent computer operating system—the broad scope of theories regarding the future of tech and artificial intelligence have been represented again and again.

Yet, as time goes on, such scenarios are becoming less of a figment of imagination, and more of a hard hitting reality. With 64 per cent of Americans owning a smartphone and Silicon Valley boasting an estimated GDP of $176 billion, we can see first-hand how technology and our relationship with it is shaping our society.

This growth has, of course, had numerous positive, and often life-saving, consequences. For instance, the summer of last year saw Colorado resident Les Baugh become the first double amputee to wear and operate modular prosthetic limbs. What separates these prosthetics from others previously developed and used, is that Baugh was able to operate them simply by using his brain as if he were moving his own limbs. These prosthetics are also able to simulate feelings of touch, whilst simultaneously interacting with existing muscles in the torso to enable realistic movement.

Yet, alongside undeniably important and positive developments such as this, has come an arguably darker and more troubling side of technological advancement and intelligence.

Implants and microchips have long been of interest to many, and have, again, been the subject and premise of many science fiction stories. But with both large tech companies and individual ‘biohackers’ now pursuing the development of them in real life, we are faced with an increasingly important and tough question regarding how far we should take such modifications.

Arguably, the ability to monitor and alter things such as our blood sugar through the use of a small implant in the forearm can only bear positive implications. As would brain implants, proposed by a number of companies, which offer a similar package but with the combined ability to download and store an incomprehensible and inhuman amount of data within seconds. It is this ability to take us into the realm of inhumanity, however, that is the troubling part.

Case in point—American company RealDoll are currently collaborating with robotics companies in order to produce lifelike sex dolls that allow for artificial intelligence to be installed in order to replicate ‘sex talk’ and the discourse of a real relationship. Although to some this offers a solution to a number of issues prevalent in modern day society which make it difficult to engage in a real relationship, to others it signifies a problematic and dangerous step towards the death of relationships as a whole.

This may seem like a far-fetched and unrealistic outcome, but one only has to look to Japan, a country synonymous with technological advancement, to recognise that this is not the case.

As a nation constantly in the pursuit of technological superiority, Japan are at the forefront of an artificial intelligence revolution—the revenue from their Robotics industry is expected to reach $75 billion within the next ten years. Yet, although this may do wonders for the development of useful technologies such as those previously mentioned, it is also having a dangerous and dramatic effect on their society as a whole.

With a median age of 46, Japan is the second oldest country in the world. Although not the sole cause of this issue, one factor in their reaching of such an old age may be the development of companion and sexual robots that negate the need for human interaction. Much like the aforementioned biometric implants, such a denial of the fundamental human need for relationships with one another can only signify a damaging deduction from the human experience.

It is undeniable that technology and artificial intelligence is necessary to a number of aspects of human life. And yes, it has had endless positive ramifications everywhere from the labour market to medicine. However, can we afford to take it to a a level which sees our existence as social, cohabiting people threatened? Or even to a level, as seen in Japan, that leads to the negation of reproduction itself?

Stephen Hawking said in December 2014, “the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” This may seem far-fetched, but as the pursuit of an enhanced human experience continues, it seems we are in actual fact doing more to undermine and diminish it.

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