The relationship between humans and AI is something of a dance. We and AI come close together operating collaboratively, then are pushed away by the impossibility, only to stumble but return attracted by the potential. It is perhaps fitting that the dance community is beginning to embrace robots, with AI helping to create new movements and choreography, and with robots sharing the stage with human dancers.
The relationship between society and technology is yin and yang, with every massive enhancement accompanied by the potential for danger. AI, for example, offers the promise to end boring, repetitive jobs, enabling us to engage in higher level and more fulfilling tasks. It helps with any number of efficiency efforts, such as fraud detection, and it can even paint masterpiece artworks and compose symphonies. Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, hopes AI will unlock human potential and let us focus on the most interesting, most creative, most generative things.
Wired co-founder Kevin Kelly has argued that technology, and by extension AI, is a projection of the human mind. The argument is that technology stems organically, authentically, and follows patterns found in man and nature. It is a means by which humans gain control over their environment both for safety but also for advantage. The technology we produce is a natural biological engine of human evolution and a leading cause of change limited only by our imaginations. The positive versus negative polarity of how the technology is applied, the yin and yang, is an expression of the dualistic human mind.
However the dichotomy between humans and robots, between natural and artificial does create conflict. The tension between the innate drive to develop and use AI-enabled technology and the potential for it to surpass us creates an understandable emotional turmoil. This stew powers the dance and informs the ongoing industry dialogue about how best to utilize and control AI. In effect, the discussion is about who leads. Today, while AI is mostly still in its infancy, people are in control, but the concerns are about who leads the dance in the future.
(Caption: Robots can dance. Source: Boston Dynamics.)
As AI rapidly develops, the pressure to use it to drive greater advantage grows, as do the existential worries. In “The Master Algorithm,” computer scientist and University of Washington Professor Pedro Domingos assures us that “humans are not a dying twig on the tree of life. On the contrary, we are about to start branching. In the same way that culture coevolved with larger brains, we will coevolve with our creations. We always have: Humans would be physically different if we had not invented fire or spears. We are Homo technicus as much as Homo sapiens.” In this he suggests that humans will always lead, no matter how advanced AI becomes. It is this synergy that underlies a belief in collaboration between humans and machines, a dance pairing with each excelling in ways unique to their strengths. This has given rise to the idea of machines as teammates. The idea is that such collaboration could sustainably augment humans and generate positive benefits for individuals, organizations, and societies.
That might work – unless man and machine merge. Philosopher Jason Silva says that AI will change our scope of possibilities in ways we are only starting to glimpse and will lead to a merging between man and machine. Certainly, Elon Musk believes this is both possible and a necessary direction. Though the near-term goal of his Neuralink company and others is to build a brain-computer interface that can help people with specific health conditions, longer-term he has a grander vision. Specifically, he believes this interface will be necessary for humans to keep pace with increasingly powerful AI.
Such a development could redefine the relationship between humans and machines, with the merged combination giving rise to a higher form of AI-powered intelligence. In effect, a fusion of the dancers. Among other things, this would also have huge implications for religion. If God created human beings in God’s own image and humans create robots in our image, what does that make them in the eyes of religion? And what does that make a merged creation? Perhaps that is one of the reasons why the Pope recently urged people to pray that robots and artificial intelligence respect the dignity of the person and always serve mankind.
(Caption: The Pope on robots and AI.)
Even if there is not this direct physical connection between humans and AI, there is still a growing symbiosis. Researchers are starting to build hybrid collaborative systems that combine the best of an AI model’s superpowers with human intuition. In this, humans contribute leadership, teamwork, creativity, and social skills and machines lead with speed and scalability.
A new line of research has a vision of a society in which people are living seamlessly with machines. Though admittedly still some years off, in this vision the AI is merged with an intelligent body to create new types of robots that have properties comparable to those of intelligent living organisms, possibly a step towards creating Replicants with all the implications as imagined by Philip K. Dick in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? that also inspired the Blade Runner movies. This requires what the researchers call Physical AI, combining knowledge from materials science, mechanical engineering, computer science, biology and chemistry. According to a new paper, these robots would be designed to look and behave like humans or other animals and would possess intellectual capabilities normally associated with biological organisms. The goal, according to the paper, is to build robots that could exist like benevolent animals together with nature and people.
How might we move towards this higher self – this symbiotic future of natural and artificial? The drive of human imagination, and the onward march of human technology towards what was once science fiction is revealing the possibility of a new dance.
Gary Grossman is the Senior VP of Technology Practice at Edelman and Global Lead of the Edelman AI Center of Excellence.