The Year of AIJun 19, 2023 02:29PM ● By Adam Cochran
This month’s tech column has been fortified with organic nutrients that detoxify and enhance vitality with locally sourced and natural extracts that were third-party tested in an independent lab.
Marketers love a good non-descript, non-verifiable buzzword that builds trust in a brand or product. The tech industry hasn’t had a major buzzword bleed into the mainstream vernacular since the early 2000s, when everything under the sun was marketed as high definition, or “HD.” These initials were attached to products like sunglasses, awnings, TVs and radios to make them sound innovative and high-tech, even though it took at least 10 years for consortiums to determine what qualified as a higher definition than the regular definition.
Over the past 10 years, the industry has unsuccessfully attempted to push other profitable tech terms, such as 3D, VR, the cloud and the Metaverse. But those terms didn’t permeate into consumer culture enough.
In 2023, the industry has finally managed to move a word from the parlance of tech into the ubiquitous marketing realm. Although we’re only six months in, 2023 is the year of AI.
WHAT COMPUTERS ARE NOT
Artificial intelligence (AI), by practical definition, is intelligence that is synthetic or not organic. Pop culture likes to throw around the word “sentient” or “self-aware,” but these terms are not synonymous with intelligence, artificial or otherwise.
Sentient means capable of perceiving, specifically feelings such as pain, comfort or preference. Plants are arguably sentient. Computers are not.
Self-aware is a psychology theory that originated in the early ’70s. It proposes we form our value system and behavior based on our attention to ourselves. Psychology, like most theoretical disciplines, is largely comprised of codifying common sense and publishing journal articles or books that add more jargon to a given field’s lexicon. Computers are not self-aware.
Biologists, physiologists, chemists and psychologists all study and publish how the human body is essentially an electrical and chemical machine. Academically and scientifically, humans are being defined more as complex machines.
If life is defined through chemical and mechanical processes and properties, there could foreseeably come a day when ethicists and scientists argue that machines deserve protection and consideration, depending on how science, the law and theorists define concepts like feelings or sense of self.
Movies like “Short Circuit,” “2001” and “Terminator” are all fictional examples of machines evolving and becoming sentient and self-aware, not merely intelligent. AI is more comparable to Joshua, the supercomputer in the 1983 film, “WarGames.”
Cyberethics is a growing discipline because there aren’t any agreed-upon standards for concepts such as feeling, pain, joy, guilt, etc.
WHAT MODERN AI REALLY IS
It is universally accepted that we have achieved the creation of artificial intelligence. But AI is simpler and more attainable than sentience or self-awareness.
Computers have always had three primary functions: calculating, organizing and storing any information entered in by a user. In the era of AI, computers can also learn and make independent, value-based decisions based on the user’s entered data.
But there is no standard threshold that science or technology experts have defined as the factor that differentiates programmed behavior from independent behavior. This is largely because science can’t even define where that threshold exists for humans, let alone machines. Nature versus nurture becomes even more complex when those terms both refer to synthetic “life.”
I took a basic computer programming class in high school. The teacher recited a mantra that used to be common among computer geeks: “Computers are stupid—they can’t think for themselves. Computers can only do what we tell them to do.”
This mantra is still technically true. But the scope of what we can tell the computer to do has become broader than anyone other than science fiction authors ever anticipated.
Revisiting the film “WarGames,” the traditional concept of AI has referred to man-made technology acquiring the ability to learn and independently act, not just remember, calculate and organize. Modern technology has achieved artificial intelligence by adding a new level of computing called machine learning.
By combining machine learning with the computing power of the internet, a computer’s limitation of only being able to do what we tell it to do evolves into a computer being able to do whatever it can learn to do by gathering, comparing, combining and arranging data according to any instructions we give it.
In next month’s Talking Digital column, I will discuss the basics of how modern AI technology works, its beneficial uses, how to experiment with it and how it may actually help human civilization improve as society strives to defend the values of humanity and differentiate human innovation, creativity and conscience over machine intelligence.