Kissinger on AI

Henry Kissinger, eminent historian, philosopher and statesman, has joined the crowded debate over the long term threat to humanity posed by machines soon to be capable of taking over, a la supercomputer HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Kissinger writes in How the Enlightenment Ends that Artificial Intelligence has already begun to “transform the human condition” – for the worse.  By learning from its mistakes, and refining its algorithms accordingly, AI is “a technology capable of inventing and solving complex, seemingly abstract problems by processes that seem to replicate the human mind.”  By mastering these “competencies more rapidly and definitively than humans”, the individual insight and scientific knowledge that powered the Enlightenment is withering away.

The effects of AI leading to this decline in cognitive ability:  speed inhibits reflection; we are diverted from introspection; information overwhelms wisdom;  “weaken the fortitude required to develop and sustain convictions”; Even now, we “rarely interrogate history or philosophy” – a deplorable condition that will accelerate downhill.

Moreover, AI establishes its own objectives;  is inherently lacking in context; is unable to approach questions about the nature of reality or the meaning of life; and will be unable to explain the rationale for its conclusions.

It is with great trepidation that I disagree with Dr. K., whose many works and accomplishments I admire, but he has got this wrong!

AI is not the unbounded intellect that can invent problems and solutions “for which there may be no category of human understanding.”  AI will beat human competitors at games with beginnings, rules and ends. Make the boundaries fuzzy and time horizons indeterminant and AI’s advantage will diminish.

He is right about the too common human tendency to act without introspection or the interrogation of history and philosophy, but to describe this as the deleterious effect of AI? . . .  Surely not.

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