Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Artificial Intelligence and Suffering

AI. Artificial Intelligence. Will computers ever be able to think for themselves? Would more intelligent machines be a benefit or a disaster to humanity? I was listening to a BBC broadcast in the car yesterday and the conversation was very interesting.

The conversation also talked about how much computers help us, how intelligent they can be doing things in seconds that would take a human mind months or years to do. Our cars, HVAC, cell phones, refrigerators, washers, dryers, irons, and many more have onboard computers assisting them in doing their jobs.

Pople fear that computers will take jobs away from people (has been happening for a long time,) and more importantly that we will lose control over computers and that they will control us without our being able to monitor, stop, or alter them.

A question came up which blew my mind, with an answer that astounded me, especially in relationship to my recent studies in Buddhism.  "When will computers really be able to think like a person? When will we not be able to tell a human being from a computer machine?"

The answer was stated simply, "When the computer is able to suffer."

This reflects the essential understandings of human life as professed by Buddhists. Human beings want permanence. We are uncomfortable with things changing. We want to be happy, to be safe, to be successful, etc. And we want these conditions to exist forever.

We cannot fathom dying as the ultimate measure of impermanence and human beings avoid and fear the topic of death at most costs. But die we will whether we face it or not. Things around us, including us, are constantly changing. We are not the same people we were when we woke up this morning; cellularly, emotionally, experientially.

This conflict between wanting permanence and accepting that it does and cannot exist, caused us to spend most of our life suffering. (Fear, worry, anxiety, avoidance, etc.) So the idea that computers, at least as we know them today, will always be different from a human because of the human's ability to suffer. The computer might lose a chess game against a human and be programmed to say, "Oh I am so sad, I lost the game!" But is the computer really sad and can it really suffer?

Time will tell if only because of the constante change going on around us at all times, who know where Artificial Intelligence will take us?

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