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Will AI Really Perform Transformative, Disruptive Miracles

Published by Slashdot on Sun, 18 Sep 2022

"An encounter with the superhuman is at hand," argues Canadian novelist, essayist, and cultural commentator Stephen Marche in an article in the Atlantic titled "Of Gods and Machines". He argues that GPT-3's 175 billion parameters give it interpretive power "far beyond human understanding, far beyond what our little animal brains can comprehend. Machine learning has capacities that are real, but which transcend human understanding: the definition of magic." But despite being a technology where inscrutability "is an industrial by-product of the process," we may still not see what's coming, Marche arguethat AI is "every bit as important and transformative as the other great tech disruptions, but more obscure, tucked largely out of view."Science fiction, and our own imagination, add to the confusion. We just can't help thinking of AI in terms of the technologies depicted in Ex Machina, Her, or Blade Runnerpeople-machines that remain pure fantasy. Then there's the distortion of Silicon Valley hype, the general fake-it-'til-you-make-it atmosphere that gave the world WeWork and Theranos: People who want to sound cutting-edge end up calling any automated process "artificial intelligence." And at the bottom of all of this bewilderment sits the mystery inherent to the technology itself, its direct thrust at the unfathomable. The most advanced NLP programs operate at a level that not even the engineers constructing them fully understand. But the confusion surrounding the miracles of AI doesn't mean that the miracles aren't happening. It just means that they won't look how anybody has imagined them. Arthur C. Clarke famously said that "technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic." Magic is coming, and it's coming for all of us.... And if AI harnesses the power promised by quantum computing, everything I'm describing here would be the first dulcet breezes of a hurricane. Ersatz humans are going to be one of the least interesting aspects of the new technology. This is not an inhuman intelligence but an inhuman capacity for digital intelligence. An artificial general intelligence will probably look more like a whole series of exponentially improving tools than a single thing. It will be a whole series of increasingly powerful and semi-invisible assistants, a whole series of increasingly powerful and semi-invisible surveillance states, a whole series of increasingly powerful and semi-invisible weapons systems. The world would change; we shouldn't expect it to change in any kind of way that you would recognize. Our AI future will be weird and sublime and perhaps we won't even notice it happening to us. The paragraph above was composed by GPT-3. I wrote up to "And if AI harnesses the power promised by quantum computing"; machines did the rest. Stephen Hawking once said that "the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race." Experts in AI, even the men and women building it, commonly describe the technology as an existential threat. But we are shockingly bad at predicting the long-term effects of technology. (Remember when everybody believed that the internet was going to improve the quality of information in the world') So perhaps, in the case of artificial intelligence, fear is as misplaced as that earlier optimism was. AI is not the beginning of the world, nor the end. It's a continuation. The imagination tends to be utopian or dystopian, but the future is humanan extension of what we already are.... Artificial intelligence is returning us, through the most advanced technology, to somewhere primitive, original: an encounter with the permanent incompleteness of consciousness.... They will do things we never thought possible, and sooner than we think. They will give answers that we ourselves could never have provided. But they will also reveal that our understanding, no matter how great, is always and forever negligible. Our role is not to answer but to question, and to let our questioning run headlong, reckless, into the inarticulate.Read more of this story at Slashdot.
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