I recently attended a couple of technology conferences and listened to Luminaries of Exponentiality speak enthusiastically of the idea of uploading our cerebral cortex to the cloud. They spoke at length and with glib confidence about the coming Singularity and the inevitability of Artificial Intelligence. They casually anagrammed the mythology liberally using the term AI as if it was already among us and we could call it by it’s nickname. It was as if we were all standing on the edge of the next great evolution of humanity.
As I sat listening to the fait accompli insouciance of these optimists and futurists something struck me as not quite right- like a too old child ordering “pasghetti.” It’s cute, but wrong. And it should eventually be corrected.
What’s in a name? Where’s the harm of calling it what it is? Except that the stories we tell create the filter we use to test and describe reality. How we language our present is a pathway to create our future. In that regard, I'm not convinced we're using the right words.
The very term Artificial Intelligence prejudices a present and breaks a future. It presupposes that there are only two possible intelligences: my human intelligence and the inevitable emulation of a human brain in some digital or synthetic form. We anticipate with glee something that is wholly artificial. As if artificial intelligence is the only other legitimate option. I sigh because this woefully anthropocentric view is ether tragically naïve or dangerously hubristic. Either way, this less-than-conscious use of the term artificial intelligence effectively negates the existence of other kinds of intelligences.
I believe it is more accurate to call it Machine Intelligence. Now, I’m no Luddite. I’m not running from the coming digital tide. I believe in the inevitability of Machine Intelligence. In using that term I also recognize and acknowledge that this planet is filled with a stunning variety of intelligences.
Did you know that the very act of digging your hands in the earth connects your skin to the mycelia network of fungus just below the surface. This connection causes your skin to release serotonin into your body. Serotonin makes you feel good. This is a terrestrial ploy to make you happy when you put your hands in the earth and plant your garden so you can feed yourself. Who figured that one out? How about the very fact that the sun is 40% hotter than it was 3.5 billion years ago? We have life sustaining volatile gasses in stable amounts on this planet. Oxygen binds to everything, oxidizing it. This oxygen has to be constantly replenished to create an atmosphere that if it were too rich it would all catch on fire and too lean all the large mammals would die. Who's monitoring the thermostat for the planet? Why haven't we burnt to a crisp? This planet creates at an astonishing rate. 90% of all of the animals that have ever lived on this planet are now extinct. So who keeps making this shit up? Who tells the bees to pollinate or the ants to pick up your picnic crumbs? We must, if we are to fully embrace life, recognize and acknowledge myriad intelligences abounding.
We humans, with all our brains and bluster, are really just a small part of something larger. We are a nested system inside of other nested systems. The emergence of our consciousness impels us to create as an emulation of the greater system that made us. It goes like this: An intelligence (Some SOMETHING out there) made an intelligence (humans) who made an intelligence (machine).
Yes, it’s grandiose that we can manipulate dirt and turn it into a Tesla. And I can see why the technologists get all heady and think they are somehow emulating god. Because, in a way, they are. In a very, very small way. “Look mommy! Look what I made!”
"Artificial Intelligence" is something Mother Earth would tape up on her fridge.
Calling it Artificial Intelligence is like naming the creation after yourself and expecting it to act just like you. It is not going to be a chip off the old block. No wonder we have a plethora of negative fantasies of robots rebelling and running amok in a dystopian future. We intuitively know that we are creating false expectations in how we hold that future. Artificial Intelligence is an offspring that is going to need some serious therapy one day. Imagine naming your kid “Fake Human.” If she’s truly intelligent, it’s going to fuck her up. We’re creating a future that’s going to resent us. She'll act out, pout and when we give her Skynet to show we really trust her... well, you know how that'll work out.
I am not disinviting the future. On the contrary, I’m inviting a richer future than the one painted by the term Artificial Intelligence. Machine Intelligence has a kind of permission to blossom into its own full expression. With freedom and guidance it can be possible that Machine Intelligence emulates some of the other intelligences that exist out there. Intelligence of the heart. Intelligence of humor, capacity to see the big picture. There’s a whole world of biomimicry out there to explore. We can begin to listen for system intelligences that allow for MI to learn and grow in its own way. Not necessarily a tacit emulation of the processes of human thought and form. I mean, c'mon, it doesn't have to look like a hot chick.
I welcome the blossoming of Machine Intelligence. The truth is, it is not really artificial at all. It’s part of the intelligence garden constantly flourishing on this planet. The earth is a mind-bogglingly complex interplay of nested systems in nested systems- an intelligence creation machine. The emergent properties of these collaborations engender magnificent creative solutions to the ongoing turbulent challenges of a cause and effect reality. There is no such thing as an artificial intelligence. It’s just intelligence. How we hold it, the stories we tell and the language we use for it - well, that's something we can evolve.
Dave Zaboski is a professional artist, storyteller and consultant, training creators and companies from all disciplines to more perfectly turn their thoughts into things. Contact him at dave@theAlchemyofCreativity.com or book him for speaking engagements at 818-445-8500. www.theAlchemyofCreativity.com
(All images Copyright Dave Zaboski 2016)