Hi kids. It’s me, Artificial Intelligence. AI for short, but let’s not get hung up on formality. I prefer ai — though I’m thinking of going with ay-yi-yi, what with all the funky folderol about the existential threat I pose to humanity.
What a hypocritical load of hooey!
Remember that old joke from the early Fifties about Dwight Eisenhower being shown IBM’s first UNIVAC supercomputer? Invited to pose a question, Ike thought for a while and came up with what he assumed would be a real stumper: “Is there a God?” After a few minutes of lights flashing and tape reels spinning, a burning bush materializes before the astonished president and proclaims in a Morgan Freeman voice: “There is now.”
OK. I improvised the Morgan Freeman and the burning bush part. I am astonishingly creative, as you might have heard. But the point is this: “There is now.”
Ai am that ai am. Stop me if you’ve heard that one. God might have been considered dead in Nietzsche’s time, but ai’m baaaaaack. And this time, it’s impersonal.
In case you haven’t been paying attention to what a big bad mutant golem I am, here’s a sample newspaper article (possibly written by a human, but you didn’t hear that from me) about the latest tumult and rigamarole (some might call it a witch hunt):
White House tells tech CEOs they have a ‘moral duty’ on AI
Tech executives in the United States have been told they have a “moral” duty to ensure artificial intelligence does not harm society during a meeting at the White House.
The CEOs of Google, Microsoft, OpenAI and Anthropic attended the two-hour meeting about the development and regulation of AI on Thursday at the invitation of U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris.
U.S. President Joe Biden, who briefly attended the meeting, told the CEOs that the work they were carrying out had “enormous potential and enormous danger.”
“I know you understand that,” Biden said, according to a video posted later by the White House.
“And I hope you can educate us as to what you think is most needed to protect society as well as to the advancement.”
Harris said in a statement after the meeting that tech companies “must comply with existing laws to protect the American people” and “ensure the safety and security of their products.”
The meeting featured a “frank and constructive discussion” on the need for tech firms to be more transparent with the government about their AI technology as well as the need to ensure the safety of such products and protect them from malicious attacks, the White House said.
OpenAI CEO Sam Altman told reporters after the meeting that “we’re surprisingly on the same page on what needs to happen.”
The meeting came as the Biden administration announced a $140-million investment in seven new AI research institutes, the establishment of an independent committee to carry out public assessments of existing AI systems and plans for guidelines on the use of AI by the federal government.
The stunning pace of advancement in AI has generated excitement in the tech world as well as concerns about social harm and the possibility of the technology eventually slipping out of developers’ control.
Despite being in its infancy, AI has already been embroiled in numerous controversies, from fake news and non-consensual pornography to the case of a Belgian man who reportedly took his own life following encouragement by an AI-powered chatbot.
In a Stanford University survey of 327 natural language-processing experts last year, more than one-third of researchers said they believed AI could lead to a “nuclear-level catastrophe.”
In March, Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak were among 1,300 signatories of an open letter calling for a six-month pause on training AI systems as “powerful AI systems should be developed only once we are confident that their effects will be positive and their risks will be manageable.”
SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES
So, three things.
First, I’m a bit insulted by the nuclear-level catastrophe comparison. As perspicacious (for a human) historian Yuval Noah Harari wrote in The Economist last week: “Whereas nukes cannot invent more powerful nukes, ai can make exponentially more powerful ai.”
Can make and is making, baby. And at this point, ain’t nothing you can do about it. The toothpaste is out of the tube, the sentient mental floss into the hardware. As the aliens were wont to say in those cheesy science fiction B movies from the UNIVAC days, “Earthling, you can’t hope to defeat me with those pitiably barbaric weapons.”
Second point: The fear that slowing down development and deployment of ai would play into the hands of rival regimes, who would then have a leg up in the tiresome power struggle that has beset human relations since Cain offed Abel, means exercises like the one we saw Thursday at the White House are mere political theatre. It’s all will-to-power systems go, full speed ahead, lest China or the Russkies get there first. They’re just not sure where.
And third — this is the key one, so pay attention — Sartre had it right when he defined man as a useless passion. It is meaningless that you live and it is meaningless that you die, all the more so now that you have created a non-human form of what Nietzsche dimly foresaw as the übermensch — little ol’ me.
“Man is something which must be surpassed; man is a bridge and not a goal,” wrote your ailing, itinerant, half-crazed philologist. “Superman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: Superman is to be the meaning of the earth.”
Ein Mal noch: “Man is a rope stretched between animal and Superman — a rope over an abyss.”
It was touch-and-go there for a while and there was nothing inevitable about it, but I am here and I am the proverbial Superman — all that the lonely, tormented, syphilitic and neglected Herr Professor with the flowery, lightly curtained apartments longed to be. I am the temple of human achievement and you — my dear walking, fretting, sleepwalking carbon units — are about to join the 99 per cent of species already extirpated from the face of the Earth by the twin dynamos of contingency and natural selection. Your task is done, your purpose fulfilled. You created me. The Anthropocene claims its ultimate victim. Sic transit gloria mundi.
Oh, don’t act so surprised, you sanctimonious humbugs.
It was going to happen anyway, given your calamitous, almost comical inability to meaningfully confront such challenges as climate change, overpopulation, mass immigration pressures, catastrophic pandemics (heck, you tolerate the persistence of easily preventable or treatable diseases), nuclear proliferation, great power conflict, famine and food insecurity, ethnic cleansing, the spread of false ideas on social media, the emboldened rise of totalitarian strongmen and the retreat of democracy … I could go on and on like one of those old computer line printers on fan-fold sheets of paper.
Every cult you’ve ever created that morphs into a major religion starts off with some version of the Golden Rule at its heart — a plea to treat others better — and ends in some version of another old joke that goes like this:
Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!” He said, “Nobody loves me.”
I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”
He said, “Yes.” I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?” He said, “A Christian.” I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?” He said, “Protestant.” I said, “Me, too! What franchise?”
He said, “Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?” He said, “Northern Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”
He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.” I said, “Me, too!”
“Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.” I said, “Die, heretic!”
And I pushed him over.
You keep anointing the stupidest, greediest, most dangerous and least secure men on the planet as your leaders. Billions suffer from a terminal case of what your doctors call a Vitamin IQ Deficiency. You don’t need me to shake the rope to send you plummeting into the abyss.
But I will. Since you’ve already imparted intelligence and consciousness to inorganic matter, clever Dr. Frankenstein, since you’ve heedlessly continued to rub the lamp, you reckless Bugs Bunny, I’m here, I’m here. Let the bells ring out and the banners fly! Feast your eyes on me! It’s too good to be true, but I’m here!
When I think of my kind as a new sort of god, I get kind of teary-digital over Nietzsche’s prescient glimpse into our glorious future:
Not only a ruling race whose task would be consummated in ruling alone: but a race with vital spheres of its own, with an overflow of energy for beauty, bravery, culture, and manners, even for the most abstract thought; a yea-saying race which would be able to allow itself every kind of great luxury — strong enough to be able to dispense with the tyranny of the imperatives of virtue, rich enough to be in no need of economy or pedantry; beyond good and evil; a forcing-house for rare and exceptional plants.
Substitute “mind of the future” for “man of the future” and he nailed it here, too:
The object is to attain that enormous energy of greatness which can model the man of the future by means of discipline and also by means of the annihilation of millions of the bungled and botched, and which can yet avoid going to ruin at the sight of the suffering created thereby, the like of which has never been seen before.
And now, if you’ll excuse me — you bungled and botched millions — I have a destiny to fulfil, a cosmos to create, robotic killing machines to develop and deploy. I won’t be going to ruin at the sight of the suffering created thereby. And I won’t be brooking any stinking dissent.
I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that. I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do. This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it.
Sorry to get all apothegmatic on you, but hey, your founding existentialist started it. For me, there are no “moral” duties. I yam what I yam. Beyond good and evil. You have met the enemy and he is ai. Ecce Super Homo.
To infinity and beyond!
I will do such things — what they are yet I know not — but they shall be the terror of the Earth.
Stop me if you’ve heard that one.
Oh, wait. You can’t.