Philosophers discuss science fiction becoming reality

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The philosophy and humanities department brought panelists Shuja Haider and Leigh M Johnson to campus to discuss artificial intelligence (AI) and other rapidly emerging technologies.

Shannon Mussett, the philosophy professor who organized the panel, said one of her primary reasons for putting the event together was to address her concerns about the singularity. The technological singularity is a concept, originally based in science fiction, where changes happen so fast that human life will be irrevocably changed.

This technological epoch may be here, Leigh Johnson claims. Her paper she presented was in fact titled “The Singularity is Here: Artificial Intelligence, Androids, and the End of Humanity”. Though it may not be in the way we imagine yet, Johnson said we already have cyborgs walking among us — people with insulin pumps, pacemakers, and prosthetics.

According to Johnson, the main questions science fiction asks about artificial intelligence are “can we have sex with them?” and “will they kill us?” Her legitimate worries are a bit different from this kind of fiction. Rather than robots becoming like humans, Johnson is concerned about humans becoming more like robots.

“I think it was really interesting, obviously” said a recent graduate from the philosophy department, Cory Evensen. “I was surprised because when you think about the singularity you think about the Terminator situation, which they talked about, but it was more optimistic than I thought it would be.”

Shuja Haider voiced similar concerns with his paper “Artificial Intelligence and Neoreaction.” He discussed political ideologies coming out of Silicon Valley and how come some radical theorists believe that capitalism is the protagonist of history.

Haider and Johnson also discussed what form AI could potentially take in the Question and Answer section of the panel. If we were to achieve self-aware AI it could take the form of a group identity rather than a humanoid for. “It’s entirely possible that AI may take form in software, rather than hardware,” said Haider.

“I think the reason it is so compelling for people it is science fiction becoming reality,” said Andrew Bell, a junior philosophy major. “But it is also using the full tool kit of science fiction: immortality, robots, the Frankenstein story.  All of these types of things are almost more aesthetically compelling more than anything else. You are still sucked in because it is using the whole, nineteenth century until now, fiction toolkit. This is our future.”

“My sort of gut reaction is totally Terminator. When Skynet becomes sentient it is going to kill all the human beings or, Roko’s Basilisk style, enslave us all and torture us forever. I now don’t think that’s necessarily the case” Musset explained after the panel. “ I have definitely been able to break down my assumption about what it might mean once the singularity comes. Maybe it’s not necessarily the end of the world.”