May 8, 2023
SF Gate

Is A.I. Diabolical or a Blessing?.


When your mind and heart are truly open abundance will flow to you effortlessly and easily.

By Deepak Chopra, MD, FACP, FRCP

We have been going through a winter of discontent over artificial intelligence (A.I.) as a flood of negative reports predict a dire future for A.I. For the first time the average person became intrigued by A.I. thanks to the meteoric rise of ChatGPT, a “chatbot” that can almost instantly seek out information on any topic and compose a response that rivals a competent term paper in high school or college. In a matter of months users of ChatGPT skyrocketed.

The scenarios that make A.I. seem threatening cover a wide range, up to and including so-called A.I. Armageddon, in which supercomputers take over weapons systems and create global destruction by independently deciding to use those weapons, overriding the commands of their human masters.  At the core of all the negative predictions is the same idea, that A.I. can become smarter than human beings. Instead of being a blessing, A.I. could turn diabolical in its destructive uses, and super-diabolical if it takes over from the human brain with an agenda no one can prevent or stop. 

This moment of threat versus hope offers a perfect opportunity to make some key points very clear:

No machine is smart in the human sense.

The human brain isn’t smart, either.

No machine, or the human brain, can experience anything.

Experience is the essence of human awareness.

Computers can never become aware, which is the only thing that can lead to an experience.

These points are hardly ever mentioned in the debate over A.I., for the simple reason that consciousness has been ignored. A.I. is mechanical. It can compute vast amounts of data much, much faster than a human being. Besides writing a reasonably good essay on any topic, advanced A.I. can perfectly imitate a person’s voice after hearing it for only three seconds. It can decode neural activity into words, in essence reading a person’s thoughts.  In time, and the time is fast approaching, you will be able to see famous faces saying things they never said in real life, everything generated by A.I.

Yet no matter how diabolical or doom-ridden the future looks, the other side of the coin is far more powerful, because the greatest human gift, consciousness, can be augmented and amplified by A.I. in any field. Just as robots already perform the rote tasks on an auto assembly line, A.I. has the potential to replace humans at office drudge work. As against the worries that chatbots will allow students to submit term papers they never wrote, the same class of chatbots is making search engines more useful by virtue of their ability to learn.

Already the most advanced “large language” A.I. is acquiring abilities that the bot’s programmers didn’t envision. Large language A.I. can learn foreign languages on their own and have the potential to do research chemistry at an accelerated pace for the next new virus. The blessings of A.I. come under a single canopy: making us more human.

This is the breakthrough that doomsayers are overlooking. Tools that can do arithmetic faster and with no mistakes go back as far as the Chinese abacus, but an abacus doesn’t “know” arithmetic. It seems like a quantum leap to the computational ability of A.I. linked to massive data crunched by supercomputers, but they don’t “know” arithmetic, either. They imitate knowing, which isn’t the same thing.

The imitation can be fantastic. Right now you can ask Google to translate simple phrases from French, Spanish, Russian, etc. into English, but how much better would be a chatbot that can translate an entire book in a matter of minutes and correct its translation as it goes along? Suddenly the ratio of useful information rises exponentially.

But so does the possibility of disinformation, the critics point out. In many ways the negative side of A.I. is the stepchild of social media, which critics see as a fount of disinformation, conspiracy theories, hate speech, body shaming, bullying, hacking, and many other bad outcomes. But social media doesn’t do any of those bad things. It is a portal for humans to do them. 

Therefore, an important conclusion emerges. Like social media, A.I. reflects the level of awareness of its users. A.I. has no level of awareness since it isn’t conscious. It can absorb, shuffle, combine, and recombine data (information) in fantastic ways, but human awareness is infinitely more than data and information. Indeed, “information” is a concept that had no reality until the human mind created it.

It is hard in a techie age to wrap one’s mind around that fact that a computer is mindless, although this should be obvious. Does anyone truly accept that a chatbot can fall in love, feel sympathy, hold a grudge, act on a whim, get elated or depressed, and fear death? The words that signal those experiences can be spouted by a machine. There are already A.I. “friends” who will text you all day about how wonderful you are. The Hollywood movie Her from 2013 had Joaquin Phoenix falling in love with a seductive voice on his smartphone. 

That’s a fiction, and the number of people who might potentially fall into such a scenario in real life would be small and likely limited to impressionable teenagers and lonely elders. Yet one whole strand of A.I. anxiety concerns the emotional hold that clever A.I. bots could exert to change elections, push consumer choices, rile up hatred, and in general make it impossible, as the direst critics put it, for the average person to tell illusion from reality.

The chief rebuttal to that argument is that human beings are perfectly capable of mistaking illusion for reality already, as witness every kind of fanaticism, prejudice, racism, sexism, tribalism, and so on going back thousands of years. Word of mouth is all you need, whether delivered in person, through a newspaper, on the radio, or via an A.I. bot. What matters, as always, is the level of awareness of the recipient. There has to be a link between the manipulator and the manipulated. Fortunately, at any moment the one being manipulated can break the link and walk away.

If you take the most optimistic view, A.I. could lead to a future where its enormous data massaging abilities can accurately predict the weather, foretell earthquakes, spot the incipient signs of a pandemic, route air travel more efficiently, support suicide hotlines (actually, this has already come about), create new drugs, instantly rate any class of consumer product, rush to correct disinformation as soon as it appears on the Internet, and produce a consensus on the best technologies to fund for turning back climate change. 

Whether it does any of these things, regardless of the good actors and bad actors who enter the scene, A.I. will always be an adjunct to human awareness, not a substitute for it, much less our master. 

DEEPAK CHOPRA MD, FACP, FRCP, founder of The Chopra Foundation, a non-profit entity for research on well-being and humanitarianism, and Chopra Global, a whole health company at the intersection of science and spirituality, is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation.  Chopra is a Clinical Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of California, San Diego and serves as a senior scientist with Gallup Organization. He is the author of over 90 books translated into over forty-three languages, including numerous New York Times bestsellers. His 91st book, Total Meditation: Practices in Living the Awakened Life  explores and reinterprets the physical, mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual benefits that the practice of meditation can bring.  For the last thirty years, Chopra has been at the forefront of the meditation revolution. His latest book,  Living in the Light co-authored with Sarah Platt-Finger. TIME magazine has described Dr. Chopra as “one of the top 100 heroes and icons of the century.”

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