When we think of Artificial Intelligence (AI), our minds directly go to the science fiction type of AI where we imagine a society where androids exist who are almost human-like creatures that have a sense of purpose, can display emotions and humor, and are almost imperceptible from other humans. We believe that the AI of the future would be extraordinarily versatile and impossibly complex to understand.
In today’s world though, AI behaves very differently. It is erratic, makes mistakes, and is considered almost infantile. The work that is being done by today’s AI is limited to recognizing patterns, making iterations upon iterations to perfect something, and can’t do intelligent tasks on its own without the constraints of rules and boundaries. Yes, we do have AI that has excelled in playing Chess and Go, helped drive virtual assistants like Siri, Google, and so on but they are still nowhere in terms of actual intelligence. They are simply learning the best outcomes given the parameters.
The AI we use today is termed weak AI. It focuses on narrow sets of tasks like processing voice to text, answering a set of predetermined questions, helps predict traffic and weather patterns. This AI is no doubt useful and has reduced human work by a great margin simply by making fewer errors along the way but we still are far from making sentient beings. If you want a great example of what today’s AI looks like, check this link. It is a great thought experiment called the Chinese Room.
Currently, we do not have the resources or the technology to pull off a Terminator-like robot that might save mankind by time traveling to the past. Yet a certain charm persists. We have movies like Her where we envision a society where social interaction is so limited that humans have voluntarily surrounded themselves with machines. We have romanticized the idea of having relationships with intelligent beings who can understand and express emotions that perfectly complements what you feel. I honestly believe a future depicted in Her is not going to be far from the truth. People would not want to deal with the utterly complex range of emotions shown by other humans and would rather keep to their perfected bubble in order to not feel hurt or experience discomfort.
Then there is a movie like I am Mother where there is an extinction-level event and all that is left is a teenage girl who is raised by an AI called the Mother. I wouldn’t dare to spoil the movie as I believe it is one of the better AI movies I have seen. It does raise a lot of ethical questions on how far should AI go to save humanity or whether humanity should trust AI in the first place. Do watch the movie on Netflix if you are interested. Now, let’s get back to the topic.
As a society, we are not at an age where we can have butler robots who heed our every whim and command. We still have to do our own menial chores and make sure we put the effort into what we need to do. Nor are we at an age, thankfully, that AI deems us humans are simple parasites on Earth and the best way to make sure the planet stays safe is to eliminate us.
At this stage, we have good old-fashioned AI that helps us in monotonous tasks, is excellent at doing routine work, and is good with recursions and iterations. It is an infant that is learning the ropes. We, as a species, need to understand and take AI forward in a way that creates a symbiotic future. A future where we live in harmony with our intelligent counterparts. We have to learn from our mistakes and make sure we use AI to help improve our lives as well as all life on this planet. I don’t know when that future will come and we are definitely not there yet but it is an eventuality. We are all parents to this alien child that we have given birth to. Let’s try to be great at it!