Beneficial Artificial Intelligence?

Updated: Mar 3, 2019




If you are paying attention to what is currently changing on the planet, artificial intelligence should be high on your list. Unprecedented in its change agent potential, the development of types of intelligence that are not human is a bold or dangerous step depending on who you listen to.


My take is that its probably some of both and is worth exploring because of its potential impact on our now and future. Advances in intelligence, human and otherwise have always resulted in disruption. When significantly novel, they can usher in whole new narratives on what it means to be human.


This is not new. Cultural research shows us that humans have evolved through at least six of these cultural changes. From tribal culture, to feudal empires, the emergence of science and post modern inventions like the environmental movement, civil and women's rights, alternative health etc., human intelligence has always advanced to be more complex, creative and inclusive. Each of these transitions however (Post Modern was late 1960's) has been characterized by great chaos and confusion as the old ways die away and the new ways have not yet stabilized. Does this feel familiar?


One could make the argument that each of the cultural transitions features it's own advances in technology. So, the fact that this new stage of human intelligence (Integral) is ushering in what some call machine intelligence, is not unique in our history. But on the other hand, the scope of what AI will disrupt is causing many to wonder whether we are Mickey Mouse dancing with the fateful broom in the animated fable "The Sorcerers Apprentice."


Artificial Intelligence is a huge, complex subject. Unlike our dystopian films and television series that depict one kind of "general" AI deciding humans are not needed for life on this planet, AI takes many forms. Those forms are not the stuff of sci-fi anymore, but are currently embedding themselves in all areas of human endeavor. That cute SIRI voice on your phone is but a mild precursor of what is to come.


This subject will be explored deeply by the Evolution of Intelligence project, but for the sake of this post, I want to point you to a group of high level AI researchers and thought leaders for some perspective I found useful. This movement is exploring the concept of "beneficial" artificial intelligence. Its current home is at the Future of Life Institute in California.


I first heard about the 2017 Beneficial AI Conference at the Asilomar Center in Max Tegmark's excellent book "Human 3.O" The interesting paradox for me is that Asilomar for years has hosted all kinds of conferences on spirituality and consciousness. It is not the first place that you would think of for a mega tech gathering. But on reflection, the development of artificial intelligence is asking the question... "what does it mean to be conscious" from a whole new perspective.


Check out the Future of Life's section on Beneficial AI. One of their points is that scientific experts have come together before to address the dangers of innovations like nuclear weapons and chemical warfare. Each time the principles that came out of these movements deeply influenced what we humans did with these terrifying inventions. They/we are hoping this will happen again.


There is much more on the many facets of this subject that we are tracking in our Multiple Intelligence's section.