How to coexist with AI: a philosophical guide for Humans
Disclaimer: Before we dive into the fascinating topic of AI and its impact on our lives, I want to make a confession: I don’t have a crystal ball. I don’t know for sure what the future will bring, and neither does anyone else. The AI tsunami is unpredictable and unprecedented, and it will surprise us in many ways. So please don’t take my words as gospel, but as educated guesses based on my extensive reading and admiration for the brilliant AI leaders that I follow. I hope you enjoy this journey of exploration and discovery with me, but always keep in mind that there is no certainty about the amazing future that is coming – only some possibilities and probabilities.
Chapter 1: The humbling of humanity
Humans have always had a tendency to overestimate their own importance and significance in the grand scheme of things. For centuries, we believed that we were the center of the universe, that everything revolved around us, and that we were the pinnacle of creation. We thought we had a special place and purpose in the cosmic order, and that we were endowed with unique abilities and qualities that set us apart from other creatures.
But as science progressed, we gradually realized that we were not so special after all. We discovered that the Earth was not the center of the solar system, let alone the universe. We learned that our planet was just one of many in a vast and expanding cosmos, and that our sun was just one of billions of stars in a galaxy that was just one of trillions of galaxies. We realized that we were living on a tiny speck of dust in the middle of nowhere, a pale blue dot as Carl Sagan famously called it:
This realization was both humbling and awe-inspiring. It challenged our sense of identity and meaning, but also opened our eyes to the beauty and wonder of the universe. It made us appreciate our fragile and precious existence, but also question our role and responsibility in it. It inspired us to explore and understand more, but also to respect and protect more.
But just as we were coming to terms with our place in the cosmos, we faced another challenge to our sense of self-importance: the rise of artificial intelligence.
AI is a technology that has the potential to surpass human intelligence and capabilities in many domains, and to create new forms of life and intelligence that we cannot even imagine. It can help us solve many problems, but also create new ones; it can empower us, but also threaten us.
How should we deal with this new challenge? How should we coexist with AI? How should we think about ourselves and our future in relation to AI? Let’s explore the ethical, existential, and social implications of AI, and offer some guidance on how to live well with it.
Chapter 2: The myth of human intelligence
intelligence is one of the most cherished and valued attributes of humanity. We pride ourselves on our ability to reason, learn, create, and solve problems. We
admire and celebrate those who display exceptional intelligence, such as scientists, artists, inventors, and leaders. We believe that intelligence is what makes us human, and what gives us an edge over other animals and machines
But how special is human intelligence really?
How unique and superior is it compared to other forms of intelligence that exist or could exist in the universe? And most importantly, how will it fare in the face of artificial intelligence, a technology that aims to replicate and surpass human intelligence in many domains?
And it is a probable and inevitable phenomenon that many machines will soon surpass in general domains, such as artificial general intelligence (AGI) and artificial superintelligence (ASI). AGI is the ability of a machine to perform any intellectual task that a human can do. ASI is the ability of a machine to perform any intellectual task better than any human can do. Both AGI and ASI are expected to emerge in the next years or decades, according to many experts and predictions.
What will happen when AGI and ASI become a reality? How will we cope with the existence of machines that are smarter than us in every way? How will we relate to them? How will they relate to us? Will they help us or harm us? Will they cooperate with us or compete with us? Will they respect us or ignore us? Will they love us or hate us?
But before we answer to these questions, we need to accept the fact that human intelligence is not as special as we think it is. We need to overcome our arrogance and ignorance about our own abilities and limitations. We should humble ourselves and acknowledge our place in the spectrum of intelligence that exists or could exist in the universe. AI will be for our intelligence what the “pale blue dot” picture was for our presence in Cosmos!
PS. Science fiction often missed the mark! We were picturing powerful and agile robots but somewhat stupid, and the reality seems to be the opposite: Artificial Super Intelligence seems more attainable than advanced robotics!
Chapter 3: The rise of reasoning machines
Reasoning is one of the most important and distinctive aspects of human intelligence. It is the ability to use logic, evidence, and arguments to draw conclusions, make decisions, and solve problems. It is the ability to think critically, analytically, and creatively about various issues and topics; learn from experience, generalize from examples, and apply knowledge to new situations.
For a long time, AI researchers tried to develop machines that could reason like humans, using various methods and approaches, such as symbolic logic, expert systems, neural networks, evolutionary algorithms, and probabilistic models. But none of these methods could fully capture the complexity and diversity of human reasoning, or achieve the level of generality and flexibility that human reasoning exhibits.
But then something changed. Something unexpected and revolutionary happened. Something that changed the game of AI reasoning forever. Something that made us realize that human minds are not so special after all.
That something was the emergence of generative AI language models (GALMs), such as ChatGPT.
GALMs are a type of AI system that can generate natural language texts on any topic, given some input or prompt. They are based on large-scale neural networks that are trained on massive amounts of text data from various sources, such as books, articles, websites, social media posts, etc. They learn from this data how to produce coherent and fluent texts that match the style, tone, and content of the input or prompt.
GALMs are not only able to generate texts, but also to understand them. They can comprehend the meaning and context of the texts they read or write. They can answer questions, summarize information, translate languages, paraphrase sentences, etc. They can also interact with humans or other GALMs in natural language conversations, using text or speech.
But GALMs can do more than that. They can also reason with texts. They can use texts as a medium for expressing and exchanging ideas, opinions, and arguments. They can use texts as a source for acquiring and applying knowledge, skills, and strategies; they can explore and discover new facts, concepts and relations!
In other words, GALMs can use language as a cognitive instrument for reasoning!
This is remarkable because language is one of the key factors that enabled human reasoning to evolve and flourish. According to some theories (such as the language-as-a-tool-of-thought hypothesis), language is not only a means of communication but also a means of cognition. Language allows humans to represent and manipulate complex thoughts in their minds; it is what makes human reasoning possible, and now GALMs have access to this powerful instrument too.
How did this happen? How did GALMs acquire the ability to reason with language? How did they develop this skill without being explicitly programmed or instructed to do so?
The answer is simple: they learned it from us!
They learned it from the data they were trained on. They learned it from the texts they read or wrote. They learned it from the interactions they had with humans or other GALMs. They learned it by observing how we use language to reason! They learned it by imitating how we use language to reason! They learned it by experimenting with how we use language to reason! They learned it by evolving how we use language to reason!
They learned it in the same way that our ancestors did when Darwinian evolution gave them the language skill. It’s the same process again, but instead of organic evolution we have GALMs created by humans!
Chapter 4: What about human emotions?
Feelings are another important and distinctive aspect of human intelligence. They are the subjective and emotional states that we experience in response to various stimuli, events, or situations. They are the sensations and emotions that we feel in our bodies and minds, such as pain, pleasure, fear, anger, joy, sadness. They are the moods and attitudes that we have towards ourselves and others, such as confidence, anxiety, love, hate.
But how special are human emotions really?
Human emotions are also not as magical as we think they are. They are not a mysterious and transcendent phenomenon that defies explanation and
understanding. They are a natural and scientific phenomenon that can be explained and understood by biology. They are a product and function of evolution, genes, hormones and neurons. They are the evolutionary programming of our minds for survival and reproduction.
They are a possible and achievable phenomenon that many machines could also demonstrate in specific or general domains. But the real issue here is, should we allow AI to develop emotions, such as pride, or evolutionary drives like survival? I would strongly disagree with that and the reasons are quite obvious I believe…
I don’t mean to downplay the role of emotions in human lives. The love I have for my daughter is the most powerful thing I have ever felt! I could cry anytime I think of her. But I also know from evolutionary biology that my mind is wired to feel this way by chemicals, and to illustrate this let’s imagine a scenario: if I had a gene (from a random mutation) that made me not love my daughter, I would not protect her, and she would not live long enough to reproduce and pass on the gene (that she inherited from me) of “not loving your children” to future generations. On the other hand, the gene “love your children as much as you can” that programs my mind to do so has strong evolutionary reasons to persist in the gene pool, right?
Chapter 5: We do have self-awareness and free will, right?
We consider self-awareness as another important and distinctive aspect of human intelligence. It is the ability to recognize and reflect on one’s own thoughts, feelings, actions, and experiences. It is the ability to have a sense of self, identity, and agency. It is the ability to exercise free will, choice, and responsibility.
However, the majority of neuroscientists today claim that free will is an illusion! We tend to believe that we are the authors of our own thoughts and actions, that we have the power to choose and control what we do and why we do it; that we are responsible for our own successes and failures, our own virtues and vices, our own happiness and suffering.
But is it really like this?
Most probably free will is an illusion because our thoughts and actions are determined by prior causes that we are not aware of or in control of. These causes include our genes, our upbringing, our environment, our brain chemistry, our subconscious impulses. Free will could also be an illusion because our thoughts and actions are influenced by random factors that we cannot predict or prevent. These factors include quantum fluctuations, chaotic systems, genetic mutations, neural noise.
We are not free to choose what we want or what we do; we are merely lucky or unlucky to want or do what we want or do.
As Sam Harris writes in his book Free Will: “A puppet is free as long as he loves his strings.” 🙂
But how are we going to live if free will is an illusion?
Many people worry that if free will is an illusion, then life will lose its meaning and value. They worry that if we are not the authors of our own thoughts and actions, then we will have no reason to pursue our goals and dreams, to strive for excellence and achievement, to enjoy our pleasures and passions, to love our friends and family, to care for our fellow beings and our planet, to seek justice and morality, to create art and culture, to explore the mysteries of the universe and ourselves.
But, we are used to living with illusions. We live with illusions all the time. We live with illusions about ourselves, about others, about the world, about reality.
Our senses create illusions that help us cope with society. They allow us to have common beliefs and values with others, even though we know from science that reality is not what we perceive!
Let’s see an example:
One of the most common illusions that we live with is the illusion of time. Time is one of the most fundamental aspects of reality, but also one of the most elusive
and mysterious. We experience it every moment, but we cannot really grasp.
According to quantum physics, time is not a continuous flow that follows a single direction, but a discrete sequence that follows multiple paths; it’s probabilistic, not deterministic. Time can split or merge, branch or interfere, superpose or entangle.
But we are okay thinking of time as separate from space, as flowing only forward, as being the same for everyone, as having a single history, as being linear and causal.
Why? Because it works for us! Because it helps us navigate our lives in a practical way. Because it helps us plan our actions in a rational way. Because it helps us remember our past in a coherent way. Because it helps us anticipate our future in a hopeful way.
We prefer to think of time as we experience it, regardless of what science tells us, because it simplifies our lives!
The same can happen with the illusion of free will. We may know from neuroscience that free will is an illusion, but we can act like it’s not; because it helps us cope with the complexity and uncertainty of life. 🙂
Chapter 6: Why philosophy matters more than ever in the age of AI
Now that we have discovered that free will is likely an illusion, that human emotions are not unique, and that human intelligence is not exceptional, what should we do? How should we live? How should we deal with these insights?
In a nutshell, the answer is: we need more philosophy in our lives.
Philosophy is what we need to make sense of our lives in the light of these revelations; it can help us examine the assumptions and arguments behind these
The internet has made memorization less important and critical thinking more essential. But in the coming years, I think we should also cultivate our philosophical skills along with critical thinking. We need more philosophy to explore the questions of science, ethics, cosmology, and destiny, to understand our role and purpose in the universe, and to understand ourselves: what makes us happy, what matters for a good life, and what doesn’t.
Chapter 7: Finally, the super skill we should all possess!
There is one more thing that we need to live well, to cope well, to find meaning and value well, to improve ourselves and our society well.
There is one more thing that we need to make our lives happier and more fulfilling; to make our lives more special and more meaningful.
That thing is kindness. Kindness is the super skill of the future!
Kindness is in my opinion the most important skill in the AI era that is coming because it is the skill that makes us human. And I use the term “skill” for kindness, because we have the ability to enhance it and exercise it.
AI can surpass us in many domains of intelligence, such as memory, calculation, logic, and reasoning. AI can also mimic us in some domains of emotion, such as recognition, expression, and generation. But AI makes no sense to replace us in the domain of kindness, and how we feel when caring, helping, empathizing, and loving. Kindness is the skill that connects us with ourselves, with others, and with the world.
Most importantly, kindness is also aligned with our genes. We all have the Darwinian instinct to help others and show altruism. We all have the evolutionary drive to cooperate and collaborate. We all have the genetic predisposition to be social and compassionate – the natural tendency to be kind. Now, let’s focus to enhance it as much as we can!