Humans want to believe that there’s something unique about our species. However, for the past few decades, science has chipped away at that idea—and now technology is following suit. As AI masters more complicated tasks, humans will have to recontextualize the way we see intelligence. We’ll also have to revisit some perennially contentious issues about consciousness, up to and including whether or not we have souls.
Nicholas Dirks, president of the New York Academy of Sciences, discussed these heady issues at the Techonomy 23: The Promise and Peril of AI conference in Orlando, Florida. His talk, entitled “Mind, Machine, and Meaning: The Confluence of AI and Humanity,” raised philosophical questions about AI, in addition to the more prosaic technological ones.
Dirks first discussed the idea of consciousness. Humans used to believe that our self-awareness set us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom, as did our raw intelligence and subtle emotions. However, other animals seem to exhibit consciousness, and our own technology threatens to exceed human intelligence, if it hasn’t already done so.