Intelligent machines will soon surpass the abilities of human beings, say enthusiasts of artificial intelligence. Such predictions are no longer espoused only by science-fiction aficionados. Some serious scientists are saying the same thing.
Why would anyone want to create an artificial entity more intelligent than man? The reasoning of some proponents of artificial intelligence (AI) is that, although mankind represents the pinnacle of intelligence on the planet, we have proven inept at handling many of our problems. Thus we need a new and better solution. "We could turn to these superior intelligence's for advice and authority in all matters of concern--and the humanity-induced troubles of the world could at last be resolved" (Roger Penrose, Shadows of the Mind, 1994, p. 11).
Such thoughts set off alarm bells in the minds of people who fear such creations could take over society and enslave us or even decide they don't need us. This concept has provided the themes for several Hollywood action films, including the popular 1999 release Matrix and several Terminator movies.
Artificial intelligence still young
"Super artificial intelligence" is not anticipated until well into the 21st century. AI's current state is still in its childhood. Recent developments include a chess-playing IBM computer named Deep Blue that defeated the reigning (human) world champion in 1997. AI-infused machines can also perform complicated analytical chores such as scheduling maintenance of the space shuttle.
On the horizon lies enhanced speech recognition, which some experts consider a part of AI technology. Many companies already use sophisticated computers to answer their phones. Callers dial into a switchboard and an auto-attendant directs their calls. Videocassette recorders (VCRs) and personal computers that respond to spoken commands already exist. Automobile ignition systems that recognize drivers' voices are on the horizon. The front door of your home may someday be equipped with a system that will unlock after a recognizable spoken command.
AI developers hope "heuristic" computers, equipped with vast databases and programmed to analyze and dissect problems, will be in extensive use around 2020. Heuristic computers might provide services normally supplied by a doctor or lawyer.
Designing such systems may prove more difficult than many envision. "Ask a computer about a rusty car and it might blithely diagnose measles" (Michio Kaku, Visions: How Science Will Revolutionize The 21st Century, 1997,p. 62). Some scientists believe machines with even more humanlike traits will become commonplace. "It is reasonable to assume that by 2050 we may have robots that can interface intelligently with humans, machines with primitive emotions...and common sense" (Kaku, p. 90). Some expect robots will have the capacity to actually love their masters.
How to explain consciousness
If these things sound fantastic, that's because they are. Major gulfs exist between the present state of AI and the imagined bold new world. One of the problems is how to create a conscious entity out of the inanimate. To be conscious, in a human sense, means to be aware of one's own existence, sensations, thoughts and surroundings, to learn from the past and experiences of others and be able to plan for the future.
Can true intelligence exist without such consciousness? This presents a huge problem to the development of AI because science cannot yet fathom the secrets of human consciousness. The consciousness of a human being has been called the ultimate mystery of existence. As Albert Einstein put it: "The hardest thing to understand is why we can understand anything at all" (Kaku, p. 338).
How does consciousness arise? Some call it an emergent phenomenon, something that "happens naturally when a system becomes complex enough" (Kaku, p. 94). Working from this theory, some scientists believe that eventually a form of consciousness will emerge in a laboratory environment. Others are skeptical, calling the emergent theory of consciousness "more a matter of faith than a strategy for success" (Kaku, p. 94).
Consciousness is a remarkable phenomenon, one that separates us from simpler life forms. For instance, most people would agree that human consciousness is far above any kind of awareness exhibited by insects. Researchers have recorded film footage of one insect devouring another while apparently unaware that it was being eaten by yet a third insect. This raises the question of whether insects have any awareness or consciousness at all. Nor do insects demonstrate any appreciation of art and beauty.
Of course, primates and dolphins may reflect a small degree of what we may provisionally describe as a limited animal "consciousness." But our ability to think, reason and plan clearly sets us apart from other creatures. Humans also have the ability to think intuitively. An example of intuitive thinking is the moment when we grasp things "in a flash," as when we are trying to solve a word puzzle. Some scientists realize this judgment-making ability will be difficult, if not impossible, to program into artificial intelligence. "One human mental function that is extremely hard to duplicate on a machine...is the intuitive leap--the sudden inspiration that allows you to 'get it'" (James Trefil, Are We Unique?, 1997, p. 130).
We can overestimate the potential of computers because their components "fire" much more rapidly than the neurons in the human brain. They perform mathematical calculations faster and more accurately than humans. But no computer yet designed understands what it is doing. Computers are woefully inferior to humans in other ways. One is the ability to recognize patterns--human faces, for example. Robots can be programmed to recognize a face, but they are thrown off if the face is rotated by a few degrees. Humans, on the other hand, can instantly pick a familiar face out of a large crowd. Recently it was considered a major achievement when a researcher created a computerized neural network that was able to recognize patterns with the same accuracy as a bee's brain (Kaku, p. 87).
The origin of consciousness
Scientists have formulated explanations for the origin of consciousness. The generally accepted scientific view is that "after billions of years of swirling around, matter and energy evolved to create life-forms--complex self replicating patterns of matter and energy--that became sufficiently advanced to reflect...on their own consciousness" (Ray Kurzweil, The Age Of Spiritual Machines, 1999, p. 62). When this had happened, according to this perspective, consciousness had evolved.
The Bible gives us God's vantage point. As our Creator, He is in a position to know. God made man in His "image," forming man from the dust of the earth and breathed into him the breath of life; and man became "a living being" (Genesis 1:26; 2:7).
Before God enlivened the first man, he was a lifeless creation. Afterward he was a living being, made in the image of God. God placed a unique consciousness in human beings. We can recognize beauty, make judgments and perform other mental tasks that are unique to humans.
Man is the only creature that puzzles over the reason for his existence. We are the only physical beings that demonstrably can ponder past, present and future. This ability did not evolve; God created it. He is the author of human consciousness and intelligence.
As for man developing a source of artificial intelligence that can supply answers to our insoluble problems, his new knowledge tends to produce even more problems in approximate proportion to the amount of new information he discovers. If we are wise, we will look to God for answers through His revelation, the Bible.
Man cannot find lasting solutions to his problems because they are, at their core, spiritual in nature (Isaiah 59). Unless and until humanity as a whole is ready to recognize the true source of its problems and seek God's solutions, we will continue to face the dilemmas and difficulties that have plagued mankind for thousands of years.
The Bible shows us human problems will not be resolved until Jesus Christ returns. "Behold I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone, and he who believes in Him shall not be disappointed" (1 Peter 2:6, New American Standard Bible).
There is indeed a new world coming, a world vastly different from our expectations but far better than anything we have imagined. The Bible calls it "the Kingdom of God" and tells us it will include a transformation of peoples' thoughts and behaviors. To learn more about the differences between this biblical picture and mankind's fascination with technologies such as artificial intelligence, be sure to request our free booklets What Is Your Destiny?, You Can Understand Bible Prophecy and The Gospel of the Kingdom.
Also, if you have any doubts about the authenticity or veracity of God's Word, please request your free copy of Is the Bible True? It may surprise you to what extent archaeological and historical evidence has confirmed the accuracy of the Bible. Don't delay requesting your personal copy.