The Ameca Robot, from Edisalat is photographed during the Mobile World Congress 2024, in Barcelona, Spain, Monday, February 26, 2024. / Photo: AP

By Melike Tanberk

SpaceX boss Elon Musk’s recent comment that artificial intelligence (AI) will become smarter than the most brilliant individual next year or by 2026 at the latest has set the cat among the pigeons in one of the fastest-growing sectors in the world.

Over the past few years, several tech entrepreneurs and domain experts have issued grave warnings about the rapid development of AI and raised concerns over the moral and legal implications of machine intelligence replacing humans.

But is it such a doom and gloom scenario as many have predicted?

There's a well-known 19th-century proverb, ‘Clogs to clogs in three generations’, which implies that the effort and skill required to elevate an individual's socioeconomic status from poverty often do not extend to the third generation, resulting in the inability to sustain success. In short, wealth earned in one generation seldom lasts through the third generation.

Similarly, in the realm of humanity's accumulated knowledge, the situation seems to mirror this proverb, but on a much longer timescale—approximately 8,000 generations. ‘Clogs to clogs’ roughly translates to 8,000 generations, suggesting that humanity's wealth of knowledge has reached a standstill as we approach the point of passing it on to machines.

The immense wealth of knowledge acquired since the dawn of homo sapiens in Africa will be imparted to machines which are fashioned by humans.

With these machines poised to surpass human smartness, is there a necessity for us to continue seeking an understanding of the world?

Is AI smarter than humans?

Yes, if the elements of intelligence just consist of knowledge, critical thinking and problem-solving.

However, intelligence in terms of wisdom goes beyond smartness, requiring an acknowledgement that cleverness is just one of many elements of the broader spectrum.

Wisdom incorporates attributes like curiosity and responsibility alongside it.

Can we also impart curiosity to machines, thereby relieving ourselves of the need to contemplate time, fate, death, and beyond?

It's debatable whether machine learning algorithms possess curiosity and the willingness to explore and discover more about us and our surroundings. The stars have long ignited and stimulated the minds of humanity to comprehend and explore all the realms of the universe.

This inherent marvel persists irrespective of our mortality; perhaps it serves as the very catalyst for our wonders. It's a significant misconception to assume that the machines we've created, infused with our entire legacy of knowledge, will surpass us.

Knowledge and the ability to process data don't encapsulate wisdom but merely represent the end products. We are inherently wired to be inquisitive from birth, and our capacity to channel and delve into data within their contexts leads us to further wonders, culminating in wisdom.

Another dimension that machines cannot be tasked with is comprehending the concepts of life and time. Machines may exist as long as power is supplied, devoid of the fear of death, the love of life, or a glimmer of hope.

The term "qualia" refers to the subjective conscious experiences of phenomena, encompassing perceptions, sensations, emotions, and thoughts.

In contrast to humans, AI systems lack subjective experiences and consciousness; they simply process input data, slightly surpassing basic calculators.

Human consciousness of the passage of time stands as yet another fundamental trait that distinguishes us from machines or animals. Therefore, comparing humanity to machines is irrelevant; thereby, succumbing to despair in the face of machines would be futile.

We can elegantly delegate intelligence to machines, similar to how the invention of writing enabled humans to externalise their memory, albeit at the cost of diminishing oral storytelling, memorisation, and repetition abilities.

Similar criticisms were raised against writing; Socrates likened it to a "drug" that provides a deceptive perception of knowledge without genuine critical engagement.

As history repeats itself cyclically, just as we encoded knowledge into writing, AI now takes on the role of storing and processing vast amounts of data to simulate reasoning and decision-making. So, AI's being smarter would not make us less wise but more able.

‘God’ of all things?

Perhaps humanity stands at the brink of uncovering 'God's Equation,' representing the intricate relationship among spirituality, metaphysics, and scientific comprehension, a term commonly used in a figurative sense to describe a theoretical core equation or principle that might explain the processes of the universe in a comprehensive way.

Such questions have been contemplated by scholars ranging from Aristotle to Ibn Sina and their scientific heirs, such as Muhammad ibn Musa al Khwarizmi, Newton, Abu Bakr al Razi, Schrodinger, Farabi, Aryabhatta, Shen Kuo, and numerous others representing diverse races, religions, and worldviews.

Despite their varied backgrounds, those intellectuals all shared a common destiny—the inevitability of mortality. They probably would not have cared that the vast knowledge they contributed to passed to immortal machines in later centuries, but they might have been disappointed that their successors would be naive enough to leave existential musings on life to machines, thereby outstripping themselves in comprehending life.

Machines, in that sense, are not intelligent, albeit smarter than us, as part of intelligence stems from having the desire to know more about the future, curiosity, and protecting the earth with all its inhabitants.

So, Elon Musk’s response should not be alarming in any sense.

It is high time we delegated trivial calculations to artificial intelligence to discover more before the Sun reaches its nebula state – in roughly five billion years.

About the author: Melike Tanberk is a researcher on ethics and privacy in AI and big data at Cambridge University. She also has a degree in Philosophy from Oxford.

TRT World