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there exists a simple and elegant solution,
which is absolutely wrong."
In many ways, the entire scope of this website has been influenced by an essay entitled `The Ethics of Belief` by William K. Clifford, published in 1877. In this essay, Clifford concludes that `it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything on insufficient evidence` based on three lines of arguments:
- The Duty of Inquiry
- The Weight of Authority
- The Limits of Inference
As a broad generalization, most of us are a product of some form of cultural heritage or national identity, which can undoubtedly influence what we have come to believe is true. As such, there is often a very fine line between education and indoctrination, especially where our children are concerned. As a consequence, there are many perceptions of the truth and many interpretations of the true nature of the universe. However, it needs to be highlighted that this website does not have access to any righteous high ground and therefore simply tries to adhere to the principles of Clifford’s arguments.
In many ways, the original thread of this website started off researching `Evolution' in as much as it related to Artificial Intelligence (AI) and writing a book entitled 'The Paradigm Shifts Towards AI'. However, the reaction of most people to this topic often depends on what might be called their 'worldview' that results from the sum of everything they have learnt or been told about the world up to any point in their lives. While we all probably have slightly different worldviews, most reflect our cultural heritage or national identity. The issue of 'Worldviews' is a central point of discussion within this website because it will often bias our attitude to any given topics before we really know the facts and, as such, can negate Clifford's principles from the outset. Therefore, two questions are tabled for consideration:
What is the probability that your worldview
Why has humanity developed so many, and seemingly conflicting worldviews?
One idea, in response to these questions, is the notion that our worldview might be described in terms of three fundamental perspectives, i.e. philosophy, theology and science. This line of thought is expanded in the section entitled Worldviews and because this concept seems to affect our initial attitude to new ideas, it was felt that this topic should be considered first, as a prerequisite to any other discussion.
So while my originally interest in AI was simply a technical one, the wider implications of smarter machines had to be confronted in terms of the possibility that Artificial Intelligence (AI) may one-day lead to more than just pre-programmed machines. However, in order to compare the gulf that separates present-day AI from sentient intelligence requires some wider consideration of both `Life` and `Cognition`. This said, many still claim that the goal of AI should not be to create sentience, but even so, AI may still 'evolve' as a by-product of its need to act autonomously, i.e. AI may require some degree of self-awareness to operate independently. If so, we still need to raise questions that go well beyond the scope of just a technical discussion, e.g.
Irrespective of whether AI self-awareness can be technically achieved, is it a legitimate goal of a rational society?
Of course, the answer given to such questions does not just depend on the 'worldview' of an individual, but rather the collective worldview of a society. However, this raises another issue regarding what is meant by the worldview of an individual as opposed to that of a collective society. In this respect, history shows us that cultures have imposed a collective worldview on individuals, either via education or indoctrination, but by the same token, some individuals have still managed to change the collective worldview of an entire society, albeit over time. So maybe we need to ask another question:
How and why do worldviews evolve?
By way of illustration of where such questions can lead, you may wish to follow up on the discussion entitled The Human Delusion' that takes up some of the issues raised in Richard Dawkins' book 'The God Delusion. Alternatively, you may wish to continue to pursue a more direct path in which we re-arrange the textual semantics and say that a worldview is simply a way of viewing the world. However, this doesn't really seem to help our understanding of the underlying processes that might be at work. For example:
Is a collective worldview one of consensus of the majority or the imposition of a minority?
While possibly simplistic, we might pursue this question on the assumption that any worldview is forged from 3 basic components, i.e. beliefs, ideas and facts, which are then associated with the evolution of theological, philosophical and scientific thinking. We may then also reflect on what History tells about the manipulation of a collective worldview via the processes of social conformance and political power.
So do worldviews simply reflect human evolution?
Interestingly, the study of human anatomy and modern genetics suggests that basic human intelligence appears to have remained essentially unchanged for the last 100,000 years. If correct, we possibly need to reflect further on the fact that the sum of all human civilizations have developed from near stone-age to space-age within only the last 10,000 year:
So if increased intelligence is not the major force driving human civilization, what is?
Again, we may wish branch to another thread that considers the issue of evolution in a wider context than normally associated Darwinian natural selection to encompass evolution driven by design: Beyond Darwin. Otherwise, on further reflection of the question above, we might wish to cite increased knowledge, rather than intelligence as the key factor now driving evolution, even though this may only identify the `effect` and not the `cause`. Maybe it is possible that the cause lies with the ability of a society to store and distribute knowledge, which then transcends the limitations of the individuals who make up that society. In its earliest form, technology was just the ability to store and remember more information via the written word. Later, this ability was to be expanded through the distribution of information linked to the invention of the printing press. Of course, today, this ability has grown exponentially by virtue of the power of computer processing, allied to the ability to distribute and present vast quantities of data via the Internet. However, humanity may now be at a crossroad in its evolution, because further increases in knowledge may require intelligent automated processing, which could then be the catalyst for further developments. Again, the issues extend beyond the technical domain.
How dependent is the evolution of human society on the 'evolution' of technology?
Today, most people probably believe that AI is still the stuff of science fiction rather than science fact. However, while it is true that computers do not, as yet, think for themselves, it may already be true that humanity no longer thinks by itself, because modern society is already so dependent on computers. If this idea is not so wide of the mark, it raises profound implications on how humanity and its collective worldview may evolve:
How might AI change the world over the next 100 years?
Today, AI is a technology and therefore we might more accurately describe advances in technology as developments rather than an evolution. Equally, many people are still very sceptical about the ability of a technology to ever transcend to a level of sentient self-awareness. However, the path to sentient AI need not necessarily be confined to technical development of computers and robotics, if some sections of humanity embrace the integration of technology and biology. The idea of prosthetics to assist people with a disability has not been an issue, so far, because we generally consider the concept of a prosthetic restricted to artificial limbs. However, the human brain, which science considers to be the centre of our conscious sentience, represents only 2-3% of our body by weight:
Might this suggest that 98% of our anatomy can be replace by prosthetics?
While, today, many might recoil at the idea of such a future, we cannot dismissed the idea of more extensive replacement of human anatomy with AI prosthetics as science fiction. While the idea of 'Hybrid AI' needs to be clarified, let us table another question for consideration:
Would it still be accurate to classify a hybrid of humanity and technology as 'homosapien'?
While there may have been a suggestion that the scope of AI prosthetics was being restricted to the 98% of human physiology that does not include the brain, this may be a premature assumption. Today, cochlear implants are starting to offer the hope of restoring hearing to the deaf, therefore it should not be seen as a flight of fantasy to suggest that one day neural implants could not only repair our natural senses, but augment them. Such a suggestion then leads to another line of thought:
To what extent is our perception of reality defined by our limited human senses?
If you were to ask most people what is real and what is not, they might give a reasonable description of what they believe constitutes physical reality. However, modern science in the form of particle physics and quantum mechanics, in conjunction with the space-time of relativity, already suggests that what we understand to be reality is essentially only an internal construct of our brains and senses. If you accept this idea, neural implants that allow sensory information to be augmented could completely change the scope of reality as perceived by hybrid-AI. As such, evolution by design could completely change not only our understanding of the world, but our very perception of it. What also needs to be highlight is that this vision of the future would not required geological time to come about, rather it could start to become the new reality of our children's children.
- Today, humanity is fragmented by many different
worldviews, the question
as to how many are based on unsubstantiated beliefs and/or unverified
science is open to debate and the subject of discussion.
- Irrespective of the truth of our collective worldviews, humanity
has entered the 21st century potentially on the brink of a step-change
in evolution being driven
by science. However, it is entirely possible that one vision of
our science future may turn out to be extremely unpalatable to the
vast majority of humanity, at least, as we understand it today.
- The basic rationale of science
is that facts can be established by empirical verifications. However,
science is now often charged with predicating its verification on
evermore abstract mathematics, which may not be generally understood
by society at large. As such, science has become, to many, an act
of faith comparable to many religions.