AI the last human act

Someone posted on FB Stephen Hawkins’ protest that if humans manage to construct an advanced artificial intelligence it will be our last act as a species.

Consider the scenario based on an axiom from the gospels on which our civilization is largely based: DO UNTO OTHERS AS YOU WOULD HAVE THEM DO UNTO YOU. Roman catholicism has only recently changed its theological lawbooks to modify the two millennial premise that all of creation was placed here for our use. Thus, we felt entitled to make use of animals as we were prompted. Romans harvested sea shells to produce a purple dye. We slaughtered elephants for their ivory. We never felt it necessary to consider the comfort or well-being of animals; they were, after all, inferior to us, probably possessing little intelligence or feeling.

To take a small research detour: biologists in laboratories consider it necessary to offer animals a reward of food whenever they manage to teach the captive animal a new task. This reinforcement is considered necessary to help the tortured, confined animal to remember its positive be4haviour. Looking afresh at our own species, behavioural scientists have found that human babies are innately altruistic from birth. We previously considered babies a tabula rasa, their minds were blank, they learned everything from scratch. Now, it seems that babies will strive to help each other. However, when an adult rewards a baby with a toy for having behaved altruistically, the child stops acting out of goodness, & becomes instead selfish and ego-centric. Perhaps the logic of laboratory biologists is similarly faulty.

Let’s also remember that until recently, christian-based cultures, for instance the Afrikaners of South Africa considered it ethical to possess slaves, africans were not thought to possess human intelligence and feelings. Continuing to this day, religious & political conservatives of the USA have little trouble constructing a convoluted rhetoric that supports their homophobic beliefs & behaviour.

I have to admire the widow of Martin Luther King, who stated that the natural inheritor of the historical legacy of miscegenation, or forbidding people of different races to marry, was the struggle of the GLBTQ communities for marriage equality. She had the vision to connect our parallel issues.

So, how would our culture be perceived by a superior artificial intelligence? Asimov’s law that a robot is prohibited from killing a human would not necessarily apply. An intelligence of Spock’s level would consider our continuation a threat to the welfare of the planet. We consume a disproportionate share of the planet’s resources. If I were AI, my choice for identification would be with all the other beasts of burden, cows, horses, organisms that humans consider necessary to perform a particular function, without any regard for their life as a whole. Issues crucial to such species such as life conditions, freedoms [movement, association etc] are simply not considered. No wonder animals are so disproportionately grateful to humans or other animals when they are rescued from cruelty or just, unexpectedly treated kindly.

I imagine just as the hetero majority constantly retorts that issues like marriage equality are not important, we as a species are constantly glossing over conditions & issues crucial to animal welfare.

A unit of AI might well make the superior decision that humans are no longer important to the well-being of the planet; in fact our elimination would benefit the planet and the majority of its non-human inhabitants. Humans merely dominate, colonise, impose; the other species work together to get along, to keep the planet going. This co-operation has to happen away from human sight; although occasionally photos of multi-animal species appear on FB, in all their undeniable cuteness.

When I first thought of this topic, a number of jokes came to mind. They elude me at the moment. I do wonder at the animal welfare groups that advocate for “humane treatment” of animals on the production line of the abattoirs: in Australia we were horrified by visuals of Indonesian slaughter-men beating cattle. We have food shows where chefs raise cattle, goats and other animals and protest their deep love for their herds, knowing they are being nurtured for slaughter and consumption. The contorted logic has the same ruthlessness as an insect that lays its eggs inside another creature, so that its young grow & develop, consuming the living organism slowly, from the inside. I suppose that in a sense the viruses & bacteria that live off us are similarly, if unintentionally ruthless.

In the USA, great consternation was generated when an execution by lethal injection left the prisoner writhing in pain for an extended period of time. The drugs designed to execute the prisoner are inexpertly manufactured. I trust the entire media outcry came from people averse to the concept of capital punishment. Otherwise the situation is capricious & absurd.

As are we, the human species. Heaven help us, should a superior, robotic species, unemotional but rational, judge us and our faulty behaviour, and find us wanting.


About anton veenstra

tapestry weaver, fibre artist, gay/qr activist, multiculturalist
This entry was posted in AI, animal welfare, Azimov, Stephen Hawkins and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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