A man stood under the glaring midday sun, while another was bathed in a softer after-glow. A conversation was brewing between them, tinged with a harsh and hostile undertone. Suddenly, there was a pause, a moment of uneasy silence.
“I don’t know about this AI stuff. It seems like we’re heading down a path towards a future where machines rule over humans. We’re rushing headlong into a future we cannot control.”
“Oh, I don’t think it’s that bad. Change is always scary, but it’s also necessary for progress. AI has the potential to transform our lives for the better.”
I could have told you that this is a conversation I overheard – an exchange of quick-witted dialogues, an ethical crisis and an audience that knows no better. But I have to be honest. this is a script that was crafted by an AI – ChatGPT when I asked it to draft a conversation between a tech-optimist and a tech-pessimist, afraid of the potential of AI to alter reality.
AI, for all its flaws, has learned this pattern well: this transient feud between Man and Machine.
Some days feel like they are made up of blood, bones and sinews, a tangible and complete experience. Other days feel like a sound, a distant whirring of machine echoing what was or what could be. On those days, reality feels like a concept that is being toyed with, and the boundaries of what it means to be human become blurred. It’s as if we are both real and plastic, tethered to the feet of virtuality, and the definition of personhood is still just a shifting oasis.
The concept of personhood is a complex and intricate one, often treacherous. It’s a cluster concept, at best, as attempts to anatomise it often prove elusive. We are no longer simply an amalgam of disparate elements; we have evolved beyond that. We are also no longer fully represented by them. Our reliance on software to mediate our understanding of the world has led to a flattening of our own intelligence, turning it into something that feels artificial at times.
In the chaos that ensues, we search for meaning; there is comfort in knowledge. Perhaps it would be helpful to remember what it means to be a person. At its core, personhood is about the consciousness of being the same identity over time, in different contexts, with the ability to express oneself and the freedom to thrive within a community. However, this definition remains abstract and arbitrary, and the identifiers that we use to define personhood often erode and shift in unpredictable ways, ensuring that the concept of “personhood” is never stagnant.
The only difference, one that we could fall back on, was this: in the digital world, personhood was often reduced to a pattern of past behaviour. It was not easily malleable. Now, as we relate to reality using technology, man and the machine are becoming dynamic, adaptive, generative systems that are intimately connected.
The classic philosophical problem of the Ship of Theseus worries about a similar predicament; if parts of the ship are replaced until it no longer resembles its former self, is it still the same ship? As parts of the world, we are familiar with drift and come together to form something unrecognisable and evolved, could we expect a quiet acceptance?
The line where memory leaves off and AI picks up are getting blurry. Digital entities are, after all, are becoming just as smart as people, if not smarter. The Net is an experiential environment where the user is no longer a bodiless agent of process; it is a circular symbiotic relationship between man and machine which, when we see closely, is not a circle at all. It is a spiralling tendency.
Our collective narrative is shifting in profound ways, and it is happening at a transitional stage of our existence.
There is an inherent insecurity in being human, stemming from evolutionary biology – survival instinct. It pervades all aspects of our lives and the world around us. There is a certain flaw in being human stemming from neuroplasticity, and it lets itself into every invention we have made. There is a sense of fear in being human, the feeling that we are not enough.
Here is what I think; we do not know, and we have to be okay with that.
There are inherent risks in every step we take towards the future. Uncertainty looms, and we must be cautious to not disrupt the fabric of space-time. It is crucial that we remain vigilant and take necessary measures to protect users and eliminate any moral or ethical dilemmas. As with any emerging technology, there is a potential for exploitation. While AI excels at processing large amounts of data quickly, it still lacks the depth of understanding that comes naturally to humans. Our ability to comprehend, internalise and translate information is what truly sets us apart.
AI can mimic human behaviour, even act as a mirror, but it requires human intervention to learn. AI cannot fully solve problems due to the intricate emotional complexities that humans possess, which are challenging to grasp, let alone code into a cold, digital entity. AI cannot provide nuanced responses since personal quirks are unique and organically developed based on personal experiences. They are not cosmetic.AI cannot offer a connection. It cannot fully comprehend social cues and the human experience in its entirety. As such, it cannot offer personalisation.
Despite its efficiency, cost-effectiveness and diversity, AI cannot author human experiences. It cannot tell stories since it has not lived them. It cannot relate to the human experience because it does not understand the deep-seated desire to validate our existence. If we do not fully comprehend what it means to be human, how can AI be expected to fully replicate it? How many ideologies and moral dilemmas can we feasibly code, and how many updates will it take for AI to understand and emulate the complexity of human experience?
We do not know, and we have to be okay with that.
The true threat to humanity’s future is not AI, but rather the individuals who hold the power to exploit it. As we stand at the dawn of this technological advancement, there is a sense of hesitation that is amplified by our fear of change. Throughout history, change has always been met with hysteria, and this fear can be exploited for personal gain. The narrative of AI replacing humans has been around for some time, and now, at a time when fear is a valuable currency, it is ripe for exploitation. In the face of monetary value, morality can become ambiguous. Ultimately, the narrative surrounding AI is in our hands, and it can either be a triumph of social development or a dark future of regret.
For now, we do not know, and we have to be okay with that.
This article is authored by Dr Deependra Kumar Jha.
Dr Deependra Kumar Jha is the Chief Academic Officer of L&T EduTech. A well-versed administrator with over 23 years of experience in research, teaching, industry and administration, Dr Jha has served as the Vice Chancellor of four universities: University of Petroleum & Energy Studies, Dehradun; GD Goenka University, Gurgaon; KR Mangalam University, Gurgaon and Adamas University, Kolkata. He has a PhD in artificial complex systems engineering from Hiroshima University, Japan. His research interests include power system planning and operation, renewable energy technology, power system reliability and smart-grids to name a few. He holds a patent and has authored a number of publications in these fields in several reputed international journals and conference proceedings.
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