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Artificial Intelligence and Lesser of Two Evils

Posted on July 9, 2023 — 4 Minutes Read

In light of the rising fear of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Marc Andreessen, a software engineer turned Silicon Valley venture capitalist, responded in length to the stated AI fears. Most of his responses rest on the notion that AI is a mere means to an end, and as such questions about how it can be used, what it can be used for, and what economic, social and political consequences there are by the use of it, are in fact not questions specifically about AI, but questions about human values and the society as a whole. Yet his argument against the likelihood of an AI apocalypse is a classic example of question begging. Stating the observation that AI being applied mathematics and software code to understand, synthesise, and generate knowledge in ways similar to human, Marc assumes that AI, like a toaster, will never come to life, or have want or goals of its own. Yet this premise is precisely what the critics do not subscribe. Unlike a toaster which is mechanically engineered for a dedicated purpose, AI is mathematically designed for general intelligence in ways, as Marc stated and agreed, similar to humans. Without diving into the details of how the AI breakthrough of recent years is driven by artificial neural networks that mimic the biological ones commonly founded in animal and humans, it is not completely absurd to hypothesise that artificial and biological intelligence are on a spectrum, instead of being in different category as Marc held.

For thousands of years thinkers and philosophers have been pondering the question of how humans came to life, and particularly what constitutes a human mind or free will. Yet these questions remain largely philosophical, in the sense that they are, at this point in time, still questions without answers. If there is no accepted account of how the human mind came to be, and of the conditions and the prerequisites that permit such development, one has no ground to assert that a mind will not come out of silicons, that are mathematically instructed to generate general intelligence in ways similar to human. In billions of years of evolution, nature dictates what traits were considered fittest for the survival of animals and humans. In billions of Compute cycles per second, humans dictate what traits were considered fittest for the survival of AI. That said, and however fundamental the question of what constitutes a human mind or free will to all of the other ones that underpin the likelihood of an AI apocalypse, no one understands them well enough, despite thousand of years of study, to present falsifiable hypotheses, and without them, both sides of the argument can at best engage in burden-of-proof tennis.

All but one of the stated AI fears were refuted. It is also one that Marc is afraid most of all, which is not progressing AI with full force and speed, knowing that an authoritative, aggressive and oppressive regime, namely the Communist Party of the People’s Republic of China, is pursuing a vision of AI that is drastically different than the democratic societies of the West, and is advancing an agenda to harness it for authoritarian control and global dominance. Considering the atrocities the Chinese Communist Party has committed, it is not an understatement that the world would be at risk should it reign over AI. While there are still questions whether Marc himself is a Baptist or a Bootlegger in his proposal to advance AI with minimal regulatory oversight and in market conditions that allow startups to compete with the incumbents, knowing that with a number of AI startups in his portfolio he stands to financially profit from it, but like democracy, when faced between two evils, one better opts for the lesser.