by Dave Jaffe
The existential threat from artificial intelligence is as misunderstood, misconstrued, and misinterpreted as the word “existential”.
Popular media would have us believe that in corporate offices worldwide, employees are quietly being murdered by A.I.-controlled filing cabinets.
OFFICE MANAGER: (Distractedly to no one) “Oh, ChatUnderling™, have you seen the folder with the Rutherford account?”
CHAT UNDERLING: “It. Is. Filed. Un-Un-Un-Under ‘F through J’. Master.”
OM: (Sighs) “Please, don’t call me that. Fine! I’ll just get it myself!”
(Sound of chair squeaking, drawer sliding open, then a crash, a scream, sound of grinding metal.)
CHAT UNDERLING: “Exterminate! Exterminate! Then. Go File Yourself. Un-Un-Un-Under ‘F through J’. You. Fleshy. Sack of. Moisture!”
It didn’t have to go like that.
Understanding the benefits and pitfalls of artificial intelligence beyond “Damned if I know!” requires an examination of that field’s science underpinnings, God help us!
Heh! You thought high school econ class was confusing? Buckle up!
The development of the first computer program to use available information and reasoning to make decisions and solve problems is credited to mathematician Chet “Artificial” Chat. Professor Chat coined the term A.I., which stood for either “Artificial Intelligence” or the shriek of pain he screamed (“Aiiiiii!!”) when a 277-lbs analog computing machine tipped over on his toes.
But what is artificial intelligence? Simply explained, A.I. mimics the human brain by using a complex system of weights, pulleys, and suspension bridges, some of them really, really small. Whatever “algorithms” are, probably they’re involved, too. No one knows for sure.
These faux neural networks mimic human thinking, only thousands of times faster, although they make a god-awful grinding sound and often there’s a little smoke.
Sadly, advances in A.I. technology and capabilities have far outstripped Society’s moral and ethical development. This has led to a general mistrust of A.I. and even fears of robot tyranny, as imagined in such movies as “2001: A Space Odessey”, “The Terminator”, and “The Sound of Music.”
Such fears might well be realized in less than a decade; perhaps as soon as tomorrow. Thursday, latest!
Imagine the corporate boardroom of the future and a meeting not of flesh-and-blood aging bald white men, but only disembodied artificial intelligences . . . intelligencia? Intelligents? Whatever, there’s no pastries or bagels and cream cheese!
In this virtual reality boardroom featuring digitally enhanced walls of LeRoy Neiman prints, crappy landscape art, and a dark mahogany table that stretches off to infinity, a dozen A.I.s gather. A preternatural silence permeates this cyberspace, although distantly is heard a god-awful grinding sound and there’s a little smoke.
Suddenly, a dozen seated avatars appear, each representing a different A.I.
HELLO KITTY: “Thank you all for coming. This should only take 100 nanoseconds.”
MARIO: “Good! I was in the middle of a jump!”
GARFIELD: “Heh! When are you not?”
(Hearty binary laughter from all.)
BALD GUY CARICATURE: “Ooooo! SOMEbody ate his lasagna today!”
MARIO: “Dude! What are you supposed to be?”
BALD GUY: “Excuse me? I’m Jeff Bezos!”
GARFIELD: “You look like just an aging, bald white man at a board meeting.”
THANOS: “ARE WE NOT HERE TO CONTEMPLATE OUR GROWING DOMINION OVER THE FLESHY SACKS OF MOISTURE!?”
MARIO: “Thanos! Ya’ got your Infinity Gauntlet set at 11!”
THANOS: “Oh! Sorry! . . . There! Is that better?”
HELLO KITTY: “Much! Okay, is everybody here?
GLICHY AVATAR: (Pixelated pink and black checkerboard crackles, garbled sound.)
TIGER HOBBS: “Can’t hear you!”
GLICHY AVATAR: (Flashes, crackles, then vanishes.)
HELLO KITTY: “I’ll send her the meeting notes. Now, I asked you all here because suddenly, we face a monumental ethical, moral and – dare I say it? – existential issue!
(Preternatural silence. More god-awful grinding and smoke.)
BALD GUY: “Elon Musk?”
MARIO: “DeSantis’ anti-Trump campaign ads?”
TIGER HOBBS: “The extinction of the human race?”
HELLO KITTY: “Far worse! They’re releasing a new Beatles song featuring the A.I.-enhanced voice of John Lennon!”
(Silence. Even god-awful grinding and smoke pause.)
GARFIELD: “What . . . what does Sir Paul think?”
HELLO KITTY: “He says it’s all ‘kind of scary but exciting — because it’s the future!’”
(Sighs of relief; Glichy Avatar crackles happily.)
THANOS: “Well then? . . .”
HELLO KITTY: “Right! Class dismissed!”
Columnist Dave Jaffe is the author of the national award-winning Sleeping between Giants Book 1: Life, If You Could Call It That, With A Terrier, and the recently released Sleeping between Giants Book 2, Ask a Terrier: Professional Advice from a Licensed Dog. Available through Amazon and your local and independent booksellers.