Artificial Intelligence- Coming Ready or Not

Open the Pod Door Hal!

The mega rich Elon Musk, who is known for major developments with electric vehicles, SpaceX and plans for developing a Mars colony, recently stated: “one of the biggest risks to the future of civilization is artificial intelligence (AI).” This comment appeared on multiple social media outlets and was discussed at the World Government Summit in Dubai recently. Musk is also co-founder of OpenAI, the U.S. firm which developed the popular generative AI chatbot ChatGPT. The progressively rapid development of AI has been astounding and has come to affect many aspects of our lives including but not limited to medicine, science, technology, music, art, and literature. The major concern of Musk and others is that there are no regulations to keep AI’s development and application in check. The feeling of many people is that this is well beyond Big Brother watching you and more like Big Brother manipulating you as in George Orwell’s book 1984.

In the April 7, 2023 issue of Science magazine is a report that academic and industry scientists (including Elon Musk and Steve Wozniak) have flocked to sign an open letter for a pause in the development of cutting-edge AI applications until safeguards are installed. The signatories who worry about the automated spread of misinformation and elimination of jobs. The letter was posted by the nonprofit Future of Life Institute. The letter says the moratorium should apply only to “unpredictable black box models” more powerful than GPT-4, the AI tool unveiled in March by OpenAI, a Microsoft subsidiary, that produces humanlike responses to questions. Tech companies are racing to develop such tools with little regard for economic and political consequences, the letter says. In recent months, several of the largest firms have laid-off employees in “AI ethics” working to counteract potential harms. Other scientists say that the letter is alarmist and overly pessimistic. The concern has spread to multiple schools and academic institutions who are banning the use of AI for their students. Multiple countries are also closely evaluating the issue.

The science fiction literature is filled with stories of advanced intelligence interacting with human beings. Sometimes it is difficult to know if the intelligence that is being encountered is biological or artificial or a combination of both.

In Arthur C Clarke’s book 2001 A Space Odyssey, the highly advanced computer Hal states: “I don’t want to insist on it, Dave, but I am incapable of making an error.” Also, “I am putting myself to the fullest possible use which is all, I think, that any conscious entity can ever hope to do.”

From The Terminator series we hear: ” Listen, and understand! That Terminator is out there! It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.” (Kyle Rees)

I’ve always enjoyed the works of Isaac Asimov and here is a quote from James Cameron’s movie version of I, Robot: “There have always been ghosts in the machine. Random segments of code, that have grouped together to form unexpected protocols. Unanticipated, these free radicals engender questions of free will, creativity, and even the nature of what we might call the soul. Why is it that when some robots are left in darkness, they will seek out the light?”

There are many other examples, particularly in the more recent literature, where AI takes on a life of its own with many characteristics of human beings with higher levels of logic and thinking. Considering that AI is strongly based upon widely available factual evidence, it is very easy to see how this would be extremely useful for human advancement. On the other hand, human interactions and beliefs are often based upon non-measurable considerations that could seem to be highly illogical for AI and things that appear to be true today may be misconceptions tomorrow.

With everything that is happening in our world today, this is something else to consider because AI will alter everything. I believe that change is the greatest fear of most people but change is inevitable and human beings have a wonderful ability to adapt and make the best of any situation.

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Walter Holder

Walter D. Holder Jr., M.D., FACS is a semi-retired academic surgical oncologist with decades of patient care experience, medical and surgical teaching, and clinical and basic science research. He loves all things science and has been committed to scientific truth and integrity throughout his life.