Monday, December 21, 2020

AI: Always Artificial, Never Intelligent

 I could see the flowers from across the room. The arrangement was lovely to say the least.  The colors were bright and inviting, in no way like so many monochromatic decorative arrangements that adorned tables everywhere.  I had this urge to walk over to them, touch them and smell them. It was so rare these days to see arrangements of real flowers, I wanted to compliment the staff in bringing color to an otherwise bland functional area. 

"The flowers are lovely," I said to the receptionist. 

"Oh, those. They just changed them out yesterday. The previous ones had been there for years and were all dusty," she commented pleasantly.  

I had been deceived. . . . .again.  Oh, it wasn't that I was actually angry or even surprised - just - disappointed.  Like so many experiences these days, artificial is somehow preferred over real. Artificial wood. . . Artificial flowers . . . . Artifical Intelligence. 

As a parent I am ever so grateful that Alexa, Siri and countless apps were not available to "help" my children.  They were smart enough to circumvent the rules when it suited them. They did not need any help in that regard.  But like the silk flowers that are now both common and surreal in their use, these examples of artificial intelligence are always artificial and never intelligent. 

Besides what it has done to human relationships - measured in Facebook friends and Twitter followers, this artificial form of intelligence has undermined the very workings of the human brain. A phone remembers where you live, your phone number, your parents phone number and even your heart rate and where you have traveled and eaten today.  

"Hey son, what did you do today?" calls Dad from the dinner table. 

"Can't you track me on your phone Dad. You should be able to look that up. It will save time, I don't really remember." comes he reply. 

It is truly sad but are we not a few steps away from that as reality.

A week or so ago, The Time Machine, a 1960 award winning film adaptation of the H.G. Wells book by the same title, showed up on one of the old movie channels.  It has easily been 50 years since I saw this movie for the first time and I can still remember the warnings that I still feel today.  For those who have never seen it or the 2002 version - which is a bit more focused on special effects - it is a tale of what happens when disaster comes to an educated but functionally depended Earth. Dividing into two 'species', for the lack of a better word, one becomes childlike and dependent while the other cruel and driven.  As society passes its 75th year as part of the computer age, perhaps it is time to wonder if we are becoming the child-like humans who expect the computer to think and provide for us. 

The likelihood that humans will soon find that they have misled themselves is very real. By putting too much faith in a computer that can neither think nor feel and becoming tethered to multiple devices that are increasingly quirky, the chances of a disaster of our own making becomes more real.  

As climate change looms over us like a cloud that will not go away, what happens if man finds out it was the computer that gave permission to undermine the fabric of environmental stability.  How much of our technology are we willing to give up in order to reduce mental illness and cure preventable disease.  

The scary part is that we may not be willing to cure the Earth's ills but would rather down countless medications and endure one weather related disaster after another in order to feel intelligent but live artificially. 

The computer is and always will be artificially intelligent.  No better than writing the test answers on your hand or being good at faking it.  It's time we admit, silk flowers may be beautiful but they are nothing more than a convenient representation of the real thing.