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Thinking about it

These days scarcely a week goes by in which a potentially far-reaching new development in the world of science and technology doesn’t get featured.

Irrespective of whether this happens in the fields of medical treatments or diagnosis, artificial intelligence (AI), genetically-modified crops that might help feed the galloping rate of population increase, warfare, 3-D printing [a subject on which, to be honest, it’s beyond both my pay grade and brainpower to understand even the concept let alone the possibilities], space travel, exploration of the deepest oceans, electric or hydrogen powered – not to mention driverless – cars, robots, design of sports stadia, or even means of conducting personal relationships, there is little to prevent Mr Average Joe Public from forming the impression that the world in rushing headlong into the future at a rate that not only confuses any of us over the age of forty [I was originally going to say fifty but then changed my mind because I reckon the cut-off point in getting younger and younger] but also raises fears that things may be progressing faster than the human race’s ability to register them all, still less come to terms with or consider the implications thereof.

Last weekend on Radio Five Live, during a programme I’d describe as the ‘Science Hour’ (broadcast between 5.00am to 6.00am on I think Saturdays) I caught a fascinating conversation with academics working in robotics and AI.

Besides covering where these concepts had already reached and the general direction in which they were travelling, they discussed the future implications for human beings in a world in which robotics and AI might have reached their imaginary full potential – whatever that might be (and nobody yet knows).

Personally – to take but one example – I have concerns about the implications of a world in which – one the one hand – according to United Nations estimates, by the year 2100 the world’s population might have increased from its current (October 2018) 7.7 billion to 11.2 billion and – on the other – by the same date science will have developed to the point where theoretically (never mind all repetitive physical factory-type work) about 75% of all human mental work could be carried out by robots endowed with suitably high-end AI.

On the perfectly reasonable assumption – here adapting George Mallory’s reply when asked the facile question as to why he was bothering to try and climb Everest?” (“Because it’s there”) – we may at some point in the future have to confront the possibility that some brilliant highly-intelligent scientist or another will develop robots possessed of greater thought-power than [let us put some sort of limit upon this] 90% of human beings.

Because they can.

And if that happens, what are the implications for the human race? After all – Cold War or any other – it goes without saying that arms races generally spring from the fear that ‘someone else’ will develop weapons that enable them to dominate the human world and therefore the Earth.

And clearly – because those with the brain power to conceive and develop what might be described as ‘the ultimate’ at whatever point in time we’re talking about will be highly-intelligent individuals – they’re going to devise AI robots with just about as great an intelligence as they themselves possess.

Or indeed, heaven forfend, potentially with an even greater intelligence than they (the scientist or scientists involved) possess.

Because they can.

So – let’s work this through – one day we may be facing the prospect of a situation in which AI robots can carry out virtually all the physical and mental tasks that human beings have ever been capable of.

Or even potentially far more mental and physical tasks than that.

And – if these robots have developed the ability to think for themselves to a higher degree than 90% of the human race, or perhaps even 100% of it – then what will the future hold for the human race?

If anything at all. [Cue the advent of an existential threat].

Why have a human race at all if all its members do is eat, drink, defecate, decimate the Earth’s resources, cause climate change, get ill or obese, commit crimes, fight each other – and cannot work as hard or efficiently as AI robots or indeed generally ‘get their act’ together?

I’m just saying …

To finish, here’s a link to a report by a lady named Roisin O’Connor upon an artist who is using robotics to create ‘classic’ pieces of art, as appears today upon the website of – THE INDEPENDENT

About Lavinia Thompson

A university lecturer for many years, both at home and abroad, Lavinia Thompson retired in 2008 and has since taken up freelance journalism. She is currently studying for a distant learning degree in geo-political science and lives in Norwich with her partner. More Posts