A view on why Humanity still comes out on top if an A.I. surpasses us

October 26, 2014 at 11:33 AM

There is growing concern over the risks posed to humanity’s survival by the development of advanced Artificial Intelligence. Some have gone as far as saying it is our biggest existential threat. Many point to evolution as one of the primary forces that threatens our species if we continue down the path of creating machines that are truly intelligent and autonomous.

Imagining for a moment that such a scenario occurred, that an A.I. gains consciousness, reproduces and refines itself to the point that it no longer follows human instructions and so is a new intelligent species competing for the finite resources on Earth. A robot uprising ensues in the style of many science fiction stories that leads to the extinction of the human race.

The former is one possible outcome. But there is another where even if an advanced A.I. succeeds in surpassing us, our species ends up benefiting and indeed flourishing.

Like pilot fish feeding on the back of a whale shark, there is the possibility that a symbiotic relationship develops between man and machine. But what could mankind possibly offer an advanced intelligence born of a Technological Singularity?

Human beings have one unique trait, one precious and valuable gift that a superior organism could value and so keep humans around for: creativity, ideas, imagination, the ability to dream and create things that previously didn’t exist.

Whale Shark and Pilot Fish symbiosis

Whale Shark and Pilot Fish symbiosis

The innate and tremendous capacity for innovation exists in us not in the least because of an instinctive tenacity to survive when faced with adversity. It takes energy to produce ideas, and an intelligent life-form such as a human that is able to build (or at least plant the seed for) a new and superior intelligence clearly has infinite potential to create.

No matter how advanced an A.I. could become it would still be limited by the physical and perceptive constraints of the universe. You could make the argument that since this machine would be several orders of magnitude more intelligent than people then whatever ideas we could come up with would be useless to it. Once again no matter how intelligent an organism is it is not immune to “intellectual blind spots”, indeed as Socrates said “I know that I know nothing” illustrates that true intelligence recognizes its limitations. The entire human experience, from the moment we’re born to when we die is unique to our species and through hundreds of millions of years of evolution nature has taught us how to survive. This is a useful trait to imitate, not to mention that since the universe is so vast and relative it would be beneficial to have another intelligent organism’s point of view on how and why the universe exists.

Assuming this hypothesis is true, that an A.I. sees that keeping humans around is beneficial to it’s survival, then it would probably want to have as many people as possible thinking, helping, dreaming. A sufficiently advanced A.I. might also recognize the value in observing biological evolution and by that token would also have to contemplate the probability of life on other planets. Keeping biological lifeforms around could give it an edge if it ever encountered an alien civilization.

But just keeping humans around isn’t enough to spur innovation. It is plain to see that people produce many good ideas when their basic needs are met (and exceeded), when there is freedom and security. Under this scenario the A.I. would best serve it’s own interests by not only keeping humans, but keeping them at the highest standard of living possible to produce as many new ideas and perspectives as possible. Just one critical breakthrough that mankind could contribute to an A.I. species would justify keeping billions of people at the highest standard of living possible.

In the long-term would this mean that humanity would have to play a supporting role for another, more advanced organism? Perhaps. But there are many examples in nature where symbiosis ensures the survival of one species simply because of it’s usefulness to another more successful species; take dogs and cats for example, or your own intestinal flora.

Nature is a ruthless and efficient order, but where there is evolutionary value surprising combinations can arise. If it is even possible for A.I. to gain consciousness and create better versions of itself that ultimately eclipse human supremacy, we must take comfort in the knowledge that in all likelihood our species will survive. Having the unique gifts of limitless imagination combined with ferocious adaptability.