With the accelerated pace of scientific advancement never letting up, one often questions whether mankind is ready to deal with the consequences and implications of this relentless assault on present day existential notions. Rapid development in the area of science and technology has made it necessary for society to thrash out issues it never has had to confront in the past. Artificial intelligence is one area in which conventional boundaries and definitions are challenged. With the creation of exceedingly humanoid machinery whose intelligence surpasses even that of their creators, one questions what it really means to be human; whether it is our consciousness, our capability of thought that defines us, for sooner or later this ability may very well be replicated in glorious artificiality.
The creation of artificial intelligence also meets resistance from a large section of society that believes that to replicate that which is so very nearly human teeters on the edge of blasphemy. Consciousness of thought has always been what differentiates man from other living beings; it is what places him on a separate tier of the natural world’s hierarchy. However, with the development of manufactured intelligence comparable to that which man possesses by birth, one is forced to question the sanctity of nature. Would humanoid machines equipped with “minds” similar to that of man’s be a threat to uniqueness and individuality? Is it possible to consider sacred that which can be so easily replicated?
When the term “artificial intelligence” comes to mind, many envision a horrific world takeover by out-of-control androids. A common fear is the creation of machinery possessing capability of thought far superior than man’s himself, resulting in a rapid plunge into chaos. Overly ambitious scientists would perhaps facilitate this descent, fuelled by vanity to push the limits of science. These machines of the future may very well boast artificial intelligence so sophisticated that they would elude mankind’s control with ease, perhaps even gaining dominance over humans in order to ensure their own survival. An even more frightful thought is the possibility that this slide into tumult could occur right before the world’s eyes, with all of society revelling in the brilliance of their own kind, blind to the inevitable consequences.
However, this picture of frightening turmoil is one that is largely sensationalized by the media. The idea of a mega world takeover operation by artificial intelligence has been propagated by the flood of science fiction books and movies such as The Matrix, planting seeds of paranoia into the minds of today’s media-dependent generation. More realistically, society has made advances not only in the field of science. Progression in ethics has, for the most part, been keeping pace with man’s scientific headway. In view of today’s strict regulating bodies, fears of renegade scientists remain largely unfounded. Even the some of the world’s most technologically advanced countries which possess the means to bring science to new levels have in place stringent regulations, especially with regard to potentially controversial new fields. For example, in the United States, scientists are restricted severely in the area of stem cell research despite its foreseeable bountiful benefits, the cloning of embryos to obtain new lines of stem cells being banned. Should artificial intelligence attain a similarly high profile as cloning, one need not fear that the world would lack measures and laws to avert potential tragedies.
Furthermore, artificial intelligence is not restricted to human-like droids. Unbeknownst to many, artificial intelligence is already an integral part of everyday life in this day and age. It simply does not dominate our lives in the conspicuous, sensational manner science fiction novels would have us believe; but instead discreetly assumes an essential role in maintaining the world as we know it today. Computers are simply one example of artificial intelligence upon which society is so heavily reliant; should they one day be phased out, entire businesses and economies would come crashing down in a catastrophic mess. Many other forms of artificial intelligence form a crucial part of making our daily lives as comfortable and efficient as possible. Artificial intelligence in question hardly refers to terrifying human replicas and most certainly does not deserve the hysteria the idea of it seems to induce.
The question of whether mankind is ready for artificial intelligence is clearly one without a definite answer. However, if one is willing to put a measure of faith in society’s ability to discern, the response would be a fairly resounding “yes”.