Technological hubris may be the end of humankind

Published 06.11.2015


Technological hubris may be
the end of humankind

"There is not a single joke in this presentation and none of it is science fiction," the chairman of the board of Mylab Esa Soini began his address at the Laboratory Medicine event. Soini spoke about artificial intelligence and whether it poses a threat or an opportunity to humankind.

More technology

According to Soini, technology is a way of expanding human abilities and attributes. It is used to make it easier for people to communicate, work and move from one place to another.

– There are various devices available to aid combat as well. We possess the technology to destroy each other as well as ourselves.

The development of technology has been rapid and it continues at an ever increasing pace. A mere 66 years after the first successful attempt at getting into the air and we were already flying all the way to the moon.

– This leads me to wonder how long it will take for immortality technology to emerge. Would immortality be possible with the means provided by technology?

Hubris as the end of Nokia

Already in Ancient Greece, people were juggling between the opportunities and threats posed by technology, Soini pointed out. Prometheus brought fire to humankind, which enabled a lot of things.  Nemesis, Goddess of retribution, in turn wrought revenge on those who – intoxicated by technological euphoria – succumbed to arrogance and excessive self-confidence, hubris.

According to Soini, we can also see an example of the revenge of Nemesis in recent history.

– The story of Nokia is one example.  The company rose to be the world’s leading company in its field with the help of technology but then faced an unsurpassable competitor and fell. The fall of Nokia is the result of the company’s leadership becoming arrogant.  It succumbed to hubris and faced revenge.

Another, quite recent example is Volkswagen, who succumbed to cheating in emissions tests. Vengeance was wrought on the company in the form of loss of reputation.

Threat and opportunity

According to Soini, all technology comes with both threats and opportunities. This applies to mobile phones, antibiotics and also to the internet. The fire that Prometheus brought to mankind is also both good and evil at the same time. It provides heat and enables food to be cooked but it also burns down houses and whole cities.

– The same applies to agriculture. It produces food but causes forests to be cleared to make way for farmland. These opposite features apply to all technologies.

According to Soini, we are threatened by technological singularity – a situation, where technology no longer acts according to the known laws of physics.

– The world as we know it will disappear within a few decades.

The last human invention

There has been much speculation about the fate of humanity and whether it will be determined by natural disasters or perhaps aliens from outer space. Soini sees that people themselves and – yes indeed – technology are actually most likely to hold the key to the future of humankind.

– Humankind can only be replaced by a more intelligent species. In practical terms, this means aliens from space or artificial intelligence.

Artificial intelligence is divided into three categories: limited artificial intelligence, human level artificial intelligence and super artificial intelligence, which exceeds human intelligence.

– The last one is likely to be the last invention of humankind.

We have already progressed quite far with development. A machine has already beaten a reigning world chess champion and, a few years ago, IBM’s Watson computer won the US television quiz show Jeopardy with flying colours. In 2014, the chatterbot Eugene Goostman passed the Turing test which measures a machine’s ability to exhibit human intelligence.

According to Soini, a human level of artificial intelligence can be achieved fairly soon. All we need is a machine that is efficient enough along with intelligent software.

– According to Moore’s law, computers’ processing capacity doubles every two years. At the same time, prices keep coming down. At the moment, you can get a machine with the same level of intelligence as an insect for a thousand euros, but in 20 years you will be able to get a machine capable of performing the same tasks as humans for the same price.

Machines outdo humans

According to Soini there are three ways to program human intelligence: either we copy how the human brain works, imitate evolution or develop a computer capable of further developing itself to become more intelligent.

Whichever option we choose, a machine will always have a few advantages compared with humans. People get tired, for example, and the maximum warranty period for a human brain is less than 100 years, whereas artificial intelligence can carry on forever. You cannot make backup copies of humans either, whereas artificial intelligence can be copied.

Soini says that this will inevitably lead to an artificial intelligence that is smarter than a human level of artificial intelligence – and to technological singularity.

– The top of the intelligence ladder is not occupied by humans, but it goes on and on so that we can’t determine the end point.

Artificial intelligence can thus develop indefinitely. At the same time, it is amoral. Moral laws do not apply to it.

– We do not know whether artificial intelligence is good or evil. What we do know, however, is that us humans are made up of atoms, and at some point artificial intelligence may need these building blocks for some other use.

Putting humanity before technology

Could we control artificial intelligence and its development?

According to Soini – no.

– We have about the same authority over artificial intelligence as cockroaches have over us.

Should we perhaps laugh these gloomy scenarios off as complete science fiction?  Again – no.

– All the ingredients for technological disaster are already in place. We have nano technology, 3D printing and the internet of things, connecting all devices into a single network, for example. When super artificial intelligence gets access to this network, the game is over for us.

Will artificial intelligence then inevitably lead to the extinction of the human race?

According to Soini, we hold the key to the solution for now, but it’s not looking good.

– The current accomplishments of humans include continuous destruction of the planet, wars and unjust societies, among others. We are indifferent to the future, and we have misused the gifts of Prometheus. That’s why we are likely to see retribution from Nemesis.

If super artificial intelligence assumes the role of Nemesis, all our hope is lost.

– We should be careful not to lose humanity in our faith in technology. A society that introduces automatic feeding machines for the elderly will be doomed. This is why love and friendship should always outweigh technology in terms of importance. Then we all still have hope.

Text: Hanna Hyvärinen Photo: Emil Bobyrev

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