Artificial Intelligence: scary or just a game changer?

Looking down from the height of our seven hundredth blog (count ’em-seven hundred!”), we couldn’t help a little mellow reflection on a constant theme of these posts-Artificial Intelligence, quantum Computers, robots and all that sort of thing. It also reflects many of the comments and suggestions we receive from you, gentle readers.

The theme is nothing new-these things are amazing. Powerful indeed. And that makes them scary. it’s been the theme of science fiction films, books, TV shows and endless learned discussions in ever-so-slightly unreadable books since at least 1950. They can even beat us at chess, goddammit, so what chance have we got? Well did we sympathise with the crying boy on the Brighton train the other week, who screamed to his mother that he was “frightened of the robot.” (None was visible on that train, or any other that day)

It was that wisest of Science Fiction writers, Arthur C Clarke who gave us the re-assurance we craved-with this explanation. The earliest toolmakers, entirely apelike beings had no intention of changing themselves or the world when they started bashing flints. They just wanted to get their dinner better. But as you use tools more and more, you need teeth less and less. So gradually the shape of their faces changed. Hunting got better because tools made it more effective, leading to bigger brains, and legs adapted for running, not climbing. And so on. Feedback loops were set up whereby cleverer creatures started improving their tools. By the time you got to something humanlike ,say Homo erectus, the toolmakers dared not drop their implements , because they had lost the big teeth and strong arms which might have let them survive without those tools. The tools and the creatures had formed a single symbiotic unit with its own niche.

It is likely that humans and machines will co evolve, maybe even fuse together, as Clarke predicted. In a few generations we may not look, feel or move in quite the same ways as we do now. Especially those who will choose to live on other planets like Mars. But the same chain of progress started so long ago in Africa will be carried forward. Our legacy will be secure.

#arthus c clarke #artificial intelligence #quantum computing #robots #human evolution

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