Thoughts & Insights
If at some point in the future we discover signs of extraterrestrial intelligence or even actually meet with such beings, all our previous ideas about who and what we are would be rocked to their very foundations.
Today we know that many of the technical and social scenarios dreamed up in the quality science fiction novels of the past century by authors such as Isaac Asimov (himself a distinguished scientist) have long become accepted parts of our everyday life. The ability of the human brain to imagine solutions far beyond the seemingly impossible is more than astonishing. And there’s no shortage of trailblazers who have proven this.
In our time the leaps and bounds made by artificial intelligence go almost unnoticed even though its development is proceeding at breath-taking speeds. While simple computer-controlled robots were first used mainly for heavy and hazardous work, they are now increasingly being deployed for highly sophisticated tasks like controlling jet planes in autopilot mode or exploration of the surface of the planet Mars. Only recently the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) ruled that in cases of doubt, pilots should ignore the orders of human air traffic controls and follow the instructions of the computer-controlled warning system to avoid collisions in the air and on the ground. In other words, when it comes to a critical life-or-death situation, we now place more faith in the decisions of a machine than those of our own kind.
Forecasts by serious research scientists predict that within the next 10 to 15 years we will have produced forms of artificial intelligence that are capable of self-reproduction – artificial intelligence that can generate still more artificial intelligence. We are now well on the path to androids that can think and act autonomously – even though such independence will at first be programmable. But at some future point machines will probably be capable of re-programming themselves. Like the sensitive Sunny in Isaac Asimov‘s novel I, Robot, will they then be superior to human beings?
What will our world be like if one day artificial intelligence is capable of self-reproduction? What will be left for us humans to do? What role will we play? What contribution can we make? What will we do with our day? How can we stand it all? Freed from their need for memory recall and number crunching, for what spiritual objectives will our brains use their every increasing amounts of free capacity? Will this all serve as a kind of springboard with which people can reach a new level of consciousness?
And finally: why has evolution brought forth a form of life like human beings who are so intelligent that they can probably create an intelligence that is equal, if not superior, to their own? Is this evolution’s answer to the fact that ever since the extinction of Neanderthal man, Homo sapiens has been the only being on this planet without competitors because he is the only one of his species? Has mankind now reached a point in its evolution where it creates a model that can compete with it, a model that might possibly spell its doom? Could such man-made beings colonize space – much better than any human ever could? Is this the next stage of evolutionary development?
Or is such a development simply part of a gigantic game played out across hundreds of billions of years? “God does not throw dice” Einstein once famously declared. And when somebody of his caliber thinks so, it’s a pretty safe bet that that’s the way things are.
Image sources: KI_02_jungemedienhamburg.de; künstliche intelligenz aus der welt.de; historical.ha.com