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Man vs. Machine
POSTED 2006-04-23 15:11:18 LATEST UPDATED 2006-05-02 14:31:14
artificial intelligence USU professor says robots will dominate, and countdown is underway.The division between the two parties will become so heated that assassinations and intrigue will culminate with a war unlike any the world has ever seen. The number of fatalities will be so high that the event will be referred to as “gigadeath.”

De Garis’ 2005 book “The Artilect War: Cosmists vs. Terrans: A Bitter Controversy Concerning Whether Humanity Should Build Godlike Massively Intelligent Machines” reads a lot like the premise for a sci-fi summer blockbuster. But de Garis isn’t just musing.

“I will try to persuade you that it is not science fiction, and that strong reasons exist to compel humanity to believe ...,” he says in the introduction of “The Artilect War.”

De Garis, a computer science and physics professor with undergraduate degrees in applied mathematics and theoretical physics and a Ph.D. in artificial intelligence, says everything hinges on the advancement of nanotechnology (microscopic technology). It’s in its beginning stages now, but nowhere near where it needs to be to aid in the development of what is known as “strong artificial intelligence.”

De Garis predicts that in about 20 years nanotechnology will have developed to the point that “nanots” (nano-scale robots) and other nano-scale tools will be used to help scientists learn more about the human brain.

“I expect an explosion of new knowledge,” de Garis said. “Neuroscience will just blossom.”

The principles gleaned through this hyper-detailed study of the brain will then be applied to engineering, at which point the “brain-based industry” will boom. Rudimentary artificial intelligence will become available to the public in varying forms. Everyone will want AI robots and technologies around to perform everyday tasks.

“There will be robots who walk the dog, robots who get the paper — if we still use papers by then. There will be conversation robots, sex robots,” de Garis said.

Soon after, he says, people will begin to notice the intelligence gap closing between humans and “artilects” (a de Garis-coined term). “People will say, ‘How smart are we going to let these things get?’” he said.

As the intelligence of artilects continues to grow exponentially, a line in the sand will be drawn.

“When it starts becoming real, that’s when passions will rise,” he said.

Two “bitterly opposed” parties will rise and the conflict, he says will end in unfathomable violence.

“It will be the greatest witch hunt humanity’s ever known,” de Garis said last week in his Old Main office, “because the stake is so high: survival of the human species.”

He also thinks a third smaller party will emerge: the Cyborgians, who, instead of looking at the issue as “man versus machine,” will want to incorporate artificial intelligence into their own bodies and brains — becoming, themselves, cybernetic organisms, “cyborgs” or, in essence, artilects.

De Garis says he considers himself a Cosmist (though not 100 percent), and admits in the introduction of his book, “The prospect of building godlike creatures fills me with a sense of religious awe that goes to the very depth of my soul and motivates me powerfully to continue, despite the possible horrible negative consequences.”

“I think it would be tragic if humanity chooses to freeze progress,” he said last week.

A scientist and self-proclaimed social activist and critic, de Garis isn’t alone in his beliefs regarding an artilect takeover and an evolutionary shift from biological to electronic. Inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil is one of the more well known thinkers in the area, though his ideas on the subject are far more optimistic than those of de Garis.

“I agree with him up to a point,” de Garis said, “We do agree that this century’s global issue is (artificial intelligence).”

He feels, however, that Kurzweil, whose most recent book “The Singularity Is Near” was published last year, is being naive about the issue — “dangerously naive.”

De Garis is willing to admit that everything could play out in a variety of scenarios, though he doesn’t see it ending pleasantly. “I don’t see an easy way out of (the Artilect War),” he said. “And I’ve been thinking and thinking.”

Whatever the beliefs concerning the outcome, the idea that artificial intelligence will be THE issue of the 21st century is becoming more widespread, and de Garis is in the thick of it all.

He is featured, along with a theologist from MIT, the founder of the World Transhumanist Association and a cybernetics professor from Reading University (and writer of the foreword in “The Artilect War”), in a documentary by Chicago filmmaker Ken Gumbs called “Building Gods.” The film, which Gumbs says should debut this fall at the Chicago International Film Festival, addresses ethical, philosophical and technical issues behind creating massively intelligent machines. A rough cut can be viewed at www.video.google.com. De Garis and his ideas will also be featured in a PBS miniseries due to air in June called “The Meaning of the 21st Century.”

But not everyone’s buying into it. De Garis, a native Australian who has lived in multiple countries throughout Europe and Asia and will be taking a job at Wuhan University in China in May, says the United States has been among the slowest to accept his ideas. In his five years in the U.S. and at USU, he says he’s been told his ideas would have no impact on the prominent Mormon culture and that God would never allow “gigadeath” to occur. A publisher told him his ideas were “fantastical,” making his book a hard sell. An applied ethics professor at Princeton even said in an e-mail to de Garis, “To be blunt, I am not sure how to place you between the ‘total flake’ and ‘genius ahead of his time’ views of your ideas.”

But he is not deterred.

“I’m trying to get people’s attention focused on this,” he said.

De Garis compares his plight with that of nuclear physicists in the 1930s, like the eccentric Leo Szilard who worked with Albert Einstein on the Manhattan Project, who were considered maniacs for suggesting that a single bomb could annihilate an entire city.

“If people dismiss this stuff, they should think hard about the nuclear physicists,” de Garis said. “This is just decades away.”

Source: The Herald Journal

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