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Page history last edited by William Sims Bainbridge 5 years ago

The paragraphs on this page are rough speculations about topics that may deserve much closer study.  Each expresses a viewpoint that the author may not in fact share, but considers plausible.  More will be added, and this page serves as a rough notepad for the other AI-related pages.


1. Using the term Artificial Intelligence obscures the fact that "AI" methods differ greatly from each other, some with current potential for progress, and others probably not.  So the whole idea of vast corporate, national, and academic AI initiatives plays into the illusion that general artificial intelligence will soon be developed and endanger humanity.  More selectively focusing on more limited topics for research emphasis would not be so politically attractive, but also not so politically hazardous.  Each could have its own name, none of them "artificial intelligence."


2. Like quantum computing, the current forms of AI about which computer scientists express enthusiasm are difficult to assess, and the hopes for scientific breakthroughs and human benefits may be misplaced.  One theory: Other high-IQ technologies, such as nuclear fusion energy and interplanetary human space travel have totally stalled.  As suggested by the title of John Horgan's 1996 book, The End of Science, we may have reached the boundaries of what is possible.  Years ago, in computer science, we used to talk about the end of Moore's law, the possibility that computer science was a temporary phenomenon.  The enthusiasm for an ill-defined AI may simply be the displacement of unreasonable hopes into an area that is difficult to assess.  In my recent book, Dynamic Secularization , I explore how science may have taken over functions from religion - including psychological compensation for the limitations of human life - but both are failing now because science has entered the realm of fantasy, where religion always dwelled.


3. To a very real extent, computer science is an outgrowth of the Cybernetics Movement of the end of World War II, in which engineers sought status by claiming the ability to solve a great diversity of problems by inscrutable means.  Perhaps here I reveal my antiquity, but when I first programmed, computer science was a minor field in a few schools, and much of the honor went to electrical engineers, applied mathematicians, and to colleagues in other areas of science who were innovators with computing.  Two examples: My uncle Angus McIntosh was an innovator in this area, working at Bletchley Park cracking German codes during the war, and frankly expressing horror at how Alan Turing exploited what the others working there accomplished and kept secret, and now Turing is lauded by computer science as a saint; my uncle's field was historical linguistics.  Another example is the many sociologists, perhaps inspired by Herman Hollerith who developed the computer technology to analyze the data from the 1900 census, who naturally programmed the statistical analyses and simulations they themselves invented; I was one and worked with many others.  To the extent that computer science is seen as an arrogant social movement, other academics may respond negatively toward it, especially during a time when their fields are declining in enrollment and status.


4. A far wider segment of the public is likely to organize against AI computer science in the belief that it was a tool for giving rich people even more wealth and power, and controlling the population as seems already to be the case in China. The huge number of newsworthy serious cases involving big corporations naturally feed into that narrative.  Although the misdeeds of Facebook are not labelled AI, the techniques used are not very different, and there are many other examples of what has been called "friendly fraud."  I can't predict when the left wing of the Democratic Party, or some other political faction, will criticize AI.  The current US AI initiatives are encouraged by the Trump administration.  Yes, I know that Obama liked AI, too, but that will be forgotten.  If Trump does fall in the next few months, perhaps no one will notice his support of AI, but over time his critics may treat it like The Wall on the southern border they hate so much.


5. The term "artificial intelligence" is strongly connected with secularization, and thus has the potential to be attacked by religious groups, especially in the Evangelical and Roman Catholic traditions.  In The Buddha in the Robot, Masahiro Mori argued that AI is quite compatible with Buddhism.  But it is not compatible with traditional Christian notions that humans have transcendent immortal souls, especially if people infer that AI means general artificial intelligence rather than some innocent little mathematical algorithm with a narrow application.  One plausible theory for why Latin American countries have been so far behind East Asian countries in developing computing technology, is that religion was a significant factor.


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