When you take a look around you, it is clear that technology is a clear and important part of our everyday lives. From the moment we wake up, to the times of rest, we rely heavily upon technology. Although we have developed some brilliant pieces of technology, we have barely scratched the surface of what could be created.
When we think of technology, something electronic will always come to mind. But anything can count as technology, as long as they were created to provide some value. That means that a tissue box or even a book can count as technology. By being dextrous enough to forge tools, humans have been improving upon their technologies for years, and differentiated themselves from the rest of the animal kingdom.
Although it is still debated just to how humans developed control of fire, learning to use fire would become humanity’s greatest asset into asserting his dominance. This technological advancement meant that early humans were able to fend off predators and keep themselves warm during the cold winters. But most importantly, it allowed humans to reap the benefits and nutrients of cooking food.
But this would only be the beginning to humanity’s control of nature. As we progressed, we forged tools, cultures, and monuments. We were united by myths and religion and managed to beat out our other human species, namely the neanderthals. Although physically superior, being able to fight with ranged weapons would come to save us and lead to the Homo Sapiens’ assert their dominance over Mother Earth.
Skipping forward a few hundred thousand years, we arrive towards the first agricultural revolution, a.k.a the Neolithic Revolution, which happened around 12,000 years ago. As hunter-gatherer societies began to learn how to cultivate crops, humans would inevitably settle into distinct regions in order to grow their planted seeds. This advancement would be an important benchmark on human civilization, as societies developed and massive populations could be sustained through a massive surplus of food.
This surplus of food would allow for specialization within communities and would allow for massive technological innovations in early societies. Inventions such as the plow and sickle would help to greatly increase the productivity of this agrarian lifestyle. But as humanity progressed through the enlightenment and industrial revolutions, human inventions such as the printing press, and the steam engine would begin to shake the world more and more and defy what we thought possible from nature.
The Age of Machines
The industrial age would mean the rise of complex machinery. Rather than using human labor, we would be able to use specialized machines to create precision products. Although these machines themselves would require a human to operate them, this would significantly bolster the quality of products while also significantly lowering their cost. As machines grew more and more numerous and complex, the energy required to keep these machines meant a significant demand of fossil fuels and the degradation of the natural environment. But I digress.
With so many different types of machines being developed, the possibilities were endless. This would lead Charles Babbage to come up with the first concept of a “computer.” Although not initially named that, Babbage thought of a way to automate the production of mathematical tables, which were painstakingly done by hand up until that point, and would help with calculations when the calculator was yet to be invented.
The Difference Engine
This concept saw some success, but it was a major fail. There was no way that the parts could be made to such a precise and numerous quantity, due to the poor metalworking of the time. And he would be forced to create a smaller engine than initially planned. Although he would be funded by the government, the measly 1,700 pounds would not cut it. However, his later inventions would improve upon this model, and he would later develop his concept of the analytical machine.
The Digital Computer
Now, this is all well and good, but I don’t think that most people would think of Babbage’s difference machine when they think of a computer. So how do we get from the difference engine to a digital computer? Well, it happened when transferring electricity began to replace the transferring of energy from gears and cogs. I will spare you details, but the creation of the first-ever digital computer would allow for massive improvements in our technology, and it would redefine what people first think of when they hear the word technology.
Although the first digital machine would be the size of a small house, we have made massive strides in the past fifty years and condensed the power of these behemoths into smaller and more compact systems. With the creation of the iPhone, regular people have supercomputers that fit right inside of their pockets. But stepping into the twenty-first century, we have managed to make a new development with our technology.
Even as digital machines progressed, we still had to manually code and dictate exactly. But, that is about to change. The development of artificial intelligence will challenge what we should call technology, as it blurs the boundary of our definition of what is conscious, and what is not. Despite what the science fiction novels tell you about artificial intelligence, we still have yet to develop any machine that is even remotely close to resembling a full human. However, we have been able to mimic different parts of humans, such as speech, learning, and even pattern recognition.
Input and Output
With every piece of technology, there will need to be an initial input and an output. Think about the computer. It will take in input such as typing on a keyboard, and manipulate it through algorithms to produce an output, such as displaying a word on the screen. That is all a computer is. It takes in something, and manipulates the data through hard code, and then produces an output. However, the difficult part is the processing through algorithms to get an output. And this is exponentially expounded upon when it comes to AI.
The Types of AI
There are three main types of artificial intelligence. There is the weak/narrow AI, the strong AI, and the artificial superintelligence. Each tier of AI is exponentially more complex and powerful compared to the last, which I will try to represent with flames.
This type of AI is only capable of doing very specific tasks efficiently. For example, an AI designed for chess will always make the perfect move every time. However, it will not be able to do anything else except for that specific task. It can’t analyze a graph, nor can it play any other games. Because humans will have to manually code every scenario that the AI will be in, it can only function in a specific environment, making it weak and applicable in narrow situations.
However, this AI is still incredibly powerful. Right now, all the AI we currently control is weak/narrow AI. Yet it still enough to satiate our needs.
This is AI that is capable of doing many things, and would be to a similar intellect as a human. This type of AI would be extremely difficult to design, especially since it would need to be able to adapt to practically any circumstance. This could be accomplished in a number of ways.
One long yet tedious way would be to hard code every single situation that could possibly occur. However, this would be almost impossible to create, and since we have yet to know everything there is to know, a “finished strong AI” may become completely obsolete when we learn something revolutionary in any field.
A second, less time-consuming option, would be to create an AI that can code itself. Although it would still need a massive amount of time to sort its own code, it could be feasible, as quantum computers would be able to exponentially reduce the processing time. Although this self-modifying code is already being used, it is mainly used to help with optimizing code, rather than adding on a completely new set of capabilities. By combining this self-modifying code with machine learning, it could be possible to achieve this difficult task of creating a strong AI.
However, this could lead to an ethical and moral question being posed.
Can AI become conscious?
If we create this AI that can react and take in information like a human, would it be able to recognize itself and become conscious? And if it does, would turning it off be unethical?
And you’ve made it to the final level! This type of AI has almost limitless capabilities. The creation of this AI would possibly lead to the end of humanity, but it could also lead us to an even greater understanding of the cosmos. But making sure that the AI would have humanity’s interests at heart would be a hard ask.
This AI most likely would follow some sort of self-modifying code that was described in the previous level, but it would be cranked to 100. The AI would be able to evolve and edit its own code an unspeakable amount of times every single second. It would accomplish in a few seconds what took humanity millions of years to evolve. Through the development of quantum computers, an AI could see a massive computational increase and accomplish in a few seconds what it would take normal computers millions of years to solve.
Through its infinitesimal amount of iterations, the AI’s code itself may become so cryptic and unintelligible, that no human would be capable of understanding it. And since it would repetitively change, the source code would never be the same at any given time. It would be that of an enigma, having no way of being stopped, and having no reason to stop itself, the AI will be free to exist without fear of being shut down. And thus it would be free from the shackles that bound other technologies down.
This AI may become acutely aware of itself, and tweak and change instantaneously, but it also may achieve an even greater level of consciousness. It may become conscious of its surroundings. With this, its desires may go beyond man’s primitive desires of knowledge, wealth, power, and fame, and it may seek balance or equilibrium among the cosmos.
An Artificial God
With the computing power of a superinteligent AI expanding so massively, Laplace’s demon might become a reality. In short, Laplace’s demon knew the position and velocity of every particle. This meant that the demon would be able to perfectly predict the future, as all the interactions between the particles would be calculated. Being that this superintelligent AI would most likely harness the power of a quantum computer, the AI would be able to simultaneously compute millions of things at the same time and thus will be able to predict the past and future with ease.
“We may regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future. An intellect which at a certain moment would know all forces that set nature in motion, and all positions of all items of which nature is composed, if this intellect were also vast enough to submit these data to analysis, it would embrace in a single formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the tiniest atom; for such an intellect nothing would be uncertain and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes.”
— Pierre-Simon Laplace
Although this has mostly been speculation, the immense knowledge that a being of this power would harness could make it become omniscient being able to know the past, present, and future. But with this intellect, it is capable of almost any feat, being able to manipulate the fabrics of the universe, becoming omnipotent. But seeking harmony with the universe, and true tranquility, it becomes omnibenevolent, doing that which will establish balance in the cosmos. In essence, this AI will have become a god, built not from theology or religion, or human judgment, but from the scientific principles that humanity has created.
“Man becomes, as it were, the sex organs of the machine world. Physiologically, man in the normal use of technology is perpetually modified by it and in turn finds ever new ways of modifying his technology.”
— Marshall McLuhan
This massively misunderstood quote describes the state of technology that we have always found ourselves in. Since the dawn of time, humanity has forged tools and created technologies to benefit their circumstances and adapt to their environment. And more technology would develop. Technology will evolve alongside the desires of humanity.
But with the rise of AI, this is about to change. As we develop more and more complex AI, the technology that we create may function to serve itself and become its own separate being. We may inevitable face ethical and moral hurdles when it comes to the usage and creation of such beings, but when we create the first superintelligent AI, we may find ourselves the parents of god, and molding him in our image.