Last month a computer—IBM’s famous “Watson”—trounced the greatest human Jeopardy players of all time, and effectively inaugurated a new era in human-computer relations.
After decades of difficulty—in which all of the problems that seemed easiest turned out to be the most difficult—artificial intelligence (AI) experts are now well (or at least better) positioned to tout the potential of computers. Although robots still cannot walk, talk, and chew gum at the same time, enthusiasts hope they will soon equal our intelligence and, perhaps, even provide us with scientific alternatives to the traditional religious promises of salvation.
The AI Apocalypse
Scientists like roboticist Hans Moravec and inventor Ray Kurzweil advocate uploading our minds into robots or virtual reality so that we can live forever. They believe that our minds can be replicated outside of our brains if we simply copy the pattern of neuro-chemical activity taking place in our bodies. That pattern, rather than the brains in which the pattern takes shape, “is” the personality. If it can be transferred to a digital medium, it can be made immortal. Both Moravec and Kurzweil predict that this technological transcendence is rapidly approaching. In the near future, our essential selves will be digital information, capable of infinite replication, rapid learning, and regular backup in case of an accident. Surpassingly intelligent robots—our Mind Children, according to Moravec—will populate the universe, converting physical reality into a cosmic interweb of thinking machines.