Outgrown the human head

Berlin “I think, therefore I am.” With this statement, the French philosopher René Descartes made human reason the mainstay of the Enlightenment in 1637. More than 380 years later, the human being, driven by reason and doubt, has created a technology that shakes this pillar and thus the human self-image: “But if Artificial Intelligence (AI) thinks, what are we then?” recently published book “The Age of AI and our Human Future”.

What makes this book so special is its unusual trio of authors: 98-year-old Henry Kissinger, doyen of international diplomacy, has teamed up with former Google boss Eric Schmidt and Dan Huttenlocher from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to to think about the dawning age of AI.

“I began to work with Eric in the 1990s,” Kissinger tells the story of how the book came about in an interview with the US magazine “Time”. They only met every three or four weeks to discuss artificial intelligence.

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Later, with Dan Huttenlocher, everything was written down every Sunday afternoon for a year. It wasn’t the technology that inspired him, said Kissinger. “What fascinates me is that we are entering a new phase of human consciousness that we do not yet fully understand.”

Dangerous epoch change

There were similar epochs and paradigm changes earlier. The invention of the atomic bomb in 1945 marked the beginning of the nuclear age, which for the first time gave people a weapon for total self-destruction. “However, AI will force an even more fundamental change: It will question the primacy of human reason,” write Kissinger and his two co-authors.

Artificial intelligence is a product of human ingenuity and nullifies the primacy of human reason: “It explores and recognizes aspects of the world faster than we do, differently than we do, and in some cases in a way that we do not understand.”

Henry Kissinger, Eric Schmidt, Daniel Huttenlocher: The Age of AI. And our human future.
Little, Brown and Company
Boston 2021
272 pages
25.99 euros

The book offers a comprehensive and critical view of a technology that is increasingly permeating our lives: Alexa provides us with the weather report, intelligent software evaluates our X-rays or controls our factories, killer robots take on the fight against terrorism, and our social media filters for us what we need to know or want to know.

The list already shows the double face of artificial intelligence, its curse and its blessing. “Few epochs have faced such a complex strategic and technological challenge that there was so little agreement about,” write the three authors.

There is no lack of gloomy warnings about a world dominated by AI. “We use artificial intelligence to summon the demon,” warns tech pioneer Elon Musk. The legendary researcher Stephen Hawking, who died in 2018, even saw the end of mankind.

And Russia’s power-conscious ruler, Vladimir Putin, is certain: “Whoever masters artificial intelligence rules the world.” As a result, AI is also at the center of the global technology rift between the great powers struggling for geopolitical dominance.

Technology without limits

Schmidt, who headed the “National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence” in the USA, warns that a technological backlog in the development of artificial intelligence would endanger the national security of the USA because America’s rivals would then have “commercial and military advantages” could provide. To prevent this, the state must play a stronger role in the tech sector again.

For the former Google boss, it has not yet been decided whether AI will become a friend or enemy of humans. “AI is imprecise, which means that it can be unreliable as a partner,” said the ex-manager of the New York Times. Technology is changing all the time. “And, most importantly, she is able to learn.”

His main concern is the pace of change, which is overwhelming for people. “We have to agree on the limits of how fast these systems run, because otherwise we could end up in a very unstable situation.”

At the moment, however, nobody is showing the limits of the new technology. “We live in a world in which there is virtually no predominant philosophical point of view. That way, the technologists can let off steam, ”criticizes Kissinger.

The diabolical thing about artificial intelligence is that it appears, for example, on social media as a helpful assistant who reduces the flood and complexity of daily information to a human level. “The problem is that you have now become very dependent on this AI system,” says Schmidt.

And the book goes on to say: “AI makes decisions about what is important – and increasingly also about what is true.” In this context, the trio refers to the latest revelations by Facebook whistleblower Francis Haugen.

Eric Schmidt

The former Google boss says: “AI is imprecise, which means that it can be unreliable as a partner.”

(Photo: Reuters)

The main concern of the three authors and their strongest chapter is the consequences of artificial intelligence for future military conflicts. This is where the Kissinger handwriting becomes particularly noticeable. “If you imagine a war between China and the United States, you have artificial intelligence weapons.

Like any artificial intelligence, they are more effective at what you are planning, ”said the Cold War veteran in the“ Time ”interview. Since nobody has tested these things on a broad basis, it is also not possible to say exactly what would happen if AI fighter jets from both sides collided. “So you are in a world of potential total destruction and great uncertainty about what you are doing.”

It says in the book. “AI offers the prospect of expanding conventional, nuclear, and cyber capabilities in ways that make it more difficult to predict and maintain security relationships between rivals and that more difficult to contain conflict.”

The authors see the interaction of autonomous decisions controlled by artificial intelligence with new weapon systems such as hypersonic missiles as particularly dangerous. For Kissinger and Co., it is crucial that people not only have the last word in decisions about life and death, but that they also have enough time to think about them and speak out.

The future of the war

Schmidt tries to make the dangers clear to the “New York Times” with an example: “Imagine that you are on a ship in the future and the small computer system tells the captain: ‘You have 24 seconds left You are dead because a hypersonic missile is coming at you. You have to press this button now. ‘”Should the captain trust the artificial intelligence, but what if it makes a mistake because it is so imprecise?

Henry Kissinger

“What fascinates me is that we are entering a new phase of human consciousness that we do not yet fully understand.”

(Photo: AP [M])

You would do the book and its authors an injustice if you ranked them among the ranks of technological doom prophets. Kissinger and Co. raise many fundamental questions that are not only addressed to politics, but also to science and the large technology corporations. However, the trio owes most of the answers – mainly because knowledge of the technology and its effects is still rudimentary and is constantly changing.

Kissinger rightly admits that today it is idle to think about whether people would not be better off without AI. The wheel of history cannot be turned back and the artificial spirit is out of the bottle.

Tremendous opportunities for humanity

In addition, the three authors also show some of the enormous opportunities that the use of artificial intelligence enables for the well-being of humanity. AI offers promising opportunities when it comes to recognizing foreign languages ​​or diseases or to better understanding and combating climate change.

The book describes in detail how MIT researchers discovered the novel antibiotic halicin last year using intelligent software. Dan Huttenlocher’s scientists instructed Artificial Intelligence to make calculations that go far beyond human capabilities.

Dan Huttenlocher

Huttenlocher is Professor of Computer Science and Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

(Photo: Getty Images Entertainment / Getty)

The intelligent computers modeled millions of connections within a few days and researched previously undiscovered and unexplained methods of killing bacteria. Without the help of artificial intelligence, the new remedy would have become “prohibitively expensive”. “In other words, it would have been impossible to discover through conventional experiments.”

So it stays with the preliminary conclusion that the physicist Stephen Hawking formulated in 2016: “We cannot predict what we can achieve if our own minds are amplified by AI.” Artificial intelligence will “either be the best or the worst what will ever happen to mankind ”.

More: Big Brother in the 21st century: What digitization should be allowed to do – and what shouldn’t

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