(These are excerpts from my book "Intelligence is not Artificial")
Transcendental Intermezzo: You are a Robot - The Demise of Free Will
I suspect that the program of Artificial Intelligence will have (is having) a powerful effect on the human condition. The shocking revelation coming from A.I. is not that machines can do everything that we can do (we could easily live with this one) but in the specular realization: that we can only do what a machine can do; i.e. that we are just a machine. Robots don't have free will. You can always find the electromechanical cause of a robot's action. You can backtrack and find out the exact sequence of events that triggered the action of a machine. It only depends on how far back in time you want to go, but there is a clear path of causes that have had effects that eventually resulted in that machine to lift its arm or to say "This life has no meaning". Once these machines start doing everything that we do, it becomes obvious that our actions too are simply the effects of events outside our control.
Think of memory. Humans knew that their memory was fallible, but machines show us on a daily basis how pathetic our memory is. We are literally helpless without a computer memory to remind us of our appointments, our important data, our documents, our favorite videos, etc. We are being diminished by the constant reminder that comes from using a machine to do the things that humans do.
Neuroscience already knew that our actions are caused by electrochemical reactions in the brain, but most of us have always ignored the literal meaning of this finding. Free will is an illusion: even my thoughts about free will are due to neural events in my brain that are beyond my control.
Robots are machines guided by an operating system, by some training, by a program and by some inputs. We are machines guided by genes, by an upbringing, by the ideas of our times, and by the events of our times. Neurological diseases and nutritional deficiencies can alter our behavior just like a software bug or a power outage can affect a robot's behavior.
Evil is, ultimately, due to a combination of factors (genes, upbringing, ideologies, life events) over which we don't have any control just like a robot has no control over how it was built and programmed. Good and evil are meaningless: we are simply machines that are programmed by external forces. A serial killer is no more guilty than an earthquake. The very feelings of morality, revenge, justice and so forth arise from neural processes in the brain that are due to genes, life events and external influences.
Robots will remind us every single second that we are just machines, made of flesh and blood; ultimately, just machines like the machines made of plastic and silicon.
I suspect that, far from leading us to more exciting levels of understanding, the rise of intelligent machines will be a humbling experience for humankind. Copernicus showed us that we are not at the center of the universe. Newton and Einstein showed us that the future is predetermined by the past. Artificial Intelligence will show us that we are not even in control of our actions: we are robots, just like "them".
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