How far will Artificial Intelligence go?

The smartest Jeopardy contestant was beaten by a computer. So was the world’s best chess master. What does this mean for humans? The answer is “not much”. Those machines have no other functions than what they were programmed for. There will be no future android character like Star Trek’s Data who wants to be human and has emotions. It’s not going to happen. Why should it?

As Roger Schank notes in his article on “Artificial Intelligence” in the book, “This Idea Must Die”:

“You’ll never have a friendly household robot with whom you can have deep, meaningful conversations.” We already have humans we can relate to who are far more complex than any computer. Why create a computer to replace humans?

In another quote from the same article, Schank cited Oxford physicist David Deutsch: “No brain on Earth is yet close to knowing what brains do….The enterprise of achieving it artificially…has made no progress whatever during the entire six decades of its existence.”

We are abysmally ignorant of how our own brains work. We struggle with understanding the difference between brain and mind. We don’t even understand consciousness.

Yet, artificial intelligence has changed our lives, but is it worth it?

I recently bought a new car that turns the “brights” off when a car approaches from the opposite direction. I now have a car backup camera. These types of artificial intelligence make it more convenient for the driver, but can I live without it? I have for decades.

How about the Amazon Echo and Alexa or Google’s Home which we can order to do things by voice commands? Is the ease of use worth the cost and the danger that these devices will either be hacked into or used as a data collection device that delves into our privacy, often without our knowledge or consent?

Most of you reading this column own a smart phone. It’s a form of artificial intelligence. You use it all the time to communicate with friends, family, and business contacts. How much did you pay for that phone? How much do you pay each month? How much do you pay for apps that actually make your phone smart? How much does a phone upgrade cost, since your phone becomes obsolete every two years? What could you be using that money for instead?

For those 20- and 30-somethings and younger, your smart phones are absolute necessities, along with the $3 and $4 coffee drinks you pick up each day on your way to work or school. Smart phones are symbols of power and status. If you don’t think so, ask your teenage child if he/she is willing to give up their phone to save money. Power is addictive. Few of us give up power easily.

I don’t object to smart phones. For some of us, we couldn’t run our businesses without them.

But for some of us, the phones are addictions that consume not only money but our time (read: our lives). According to a 2017 study, the average person spends over four hours per day on their phones. You all know that these artificial intelligence representatives are designed to be addictive, and they are.

As I walk the halls and enter the classrooms of academia, students are silently reading their phones or texting messages. Pedestrian accidents have increased as people cross busy streets absorbed in their phones.

Being as old as I am, I never grew up with smart phones or other artificial intelligence devices. They’re not addictive to me. I have made a concession to own a $100/year flip phone. I turn up and turn down my own thermostat daily with no help from artificial intelligence. I know I am being silently and not so silently mocked for being so out of date. I don’t care.

If I have a research question, I get on my desktop computer and activate a non-tracking, non-data collecting search engine like DuckDuckgo that doesn’t create a dossier on me like Google.

Artificial intelligence is a force of nature. Its use will only increase over the years. My concern for you, dear reader, is that you stop and think: “Am I making right choices? Could I make an intentional decision to save money rather than become the slave of big artificial intelligence tech companies who have found inventive ways to relieve me of my cash?” There are always cost/benefit decisions to make.

At the age of 23, I left the religious cult I had belonged to for seven years. I vowed to be the master of my own life. I was not going to let culture lead me by the nose. To keep me from becoming a future victim of manipulation, I resolved to exercise self-control, develop self-awareness, and remember to be humble. I’ve largely succeeded.

Which intelligence is winning, yours or artificial intelligence?