An eminent group of scientists -- Stephen Hawking, Stuart Russell (Berkeley), and Max Tegmark (MIT) -- perhaps stimulated by the film Transcendence, and possibly even the recent EE Times debate “Robot Apocalypse” led by Max Maxfield, has issued what might be considered a warning about the possible danger of robots and artificial intelligence (AI). Such a warning about the application of AI and its derivative intelligent machines (IMs), especially in the area of military application, might be appropriate. But what if IMs are really just a new branch on the tree of evolution that has led us from the original Protists to where we are today (see Figure 1 below)?
Figure 1. Are artificial and machine intelligence the next step in evolution for humans?
(Source: Ron Neale)
The danger may not be some sort of catastrophic accident that ends human existence but the uncontrollable forces of evolution, resulting in the same outcome. Fear not, because in my view, for IMs to come into existence requires a unique evolutionary key. In Figure 1, I have introduced the concept of Synergistic Evolution (SE) to describe that key, and it is that aspect of evolution that suggests why it might not ever occur.
Synergistic Evolution (SE) requires a species to be aided in its evolutionary process by another species. This is not the same as acting as a food stuff, where the existence of an earlier species acts as the food or fuel that allows those higher up the chain to exist and evolve. Or where species like dogs or horses that exist at the same time, on a different branch, allows a species to more easily obtain food to exist and evolve.
The nearest equivalent example of SE might be a species variation such as selective breeding (unnatural selection), where human intervention is used to provide a characteristic, such as additional meat or milk in cattle or in hunting animals, dogs, or horses.
In any flight of fancy, I think the three options as illustrated in the next chart from left to right must be considered as possibilities: the first option of the evolution of some very clever tools, weapons, and body parts that become an integral part of the human species tree; or the second option as originally drawn in Figure 1 of a new branch on the tree of evolution; or the third option an extension of the human branch.
I have not attempted to provide a time scale for the vertical part of Figure 2, although I was very tempted to suggest that the horizontal scale from left to right might be considered as possibly a log scale of bovine excrement.
To be or not to be
As it will be the products and efforts of the electronics industry and its people that make possible this next step on the tree of evolution, if there is danger ahead, will they let it happen, or will they even be able to control it? Or will the artificial intelligence reach a level where it will understand the nature of human emotions and manipulate something like greed or desire to create an environment leading to the required IMs? Manipulation now plays a key role in politics and life, and it results from a misuse of some of the products of the electronics industry.
What will an IM species look like? Will it have a human-like form? Evolution has provided us humans with a pretty good engine, which consumes a variety of readily available food and oxygen. If the IMs copy that, then some of their parts might have human characteristics.