How Artificial Intelligence Will Shape Our LivesTechnology Tuesday, July 24th, 2012
If the brains behind a scientific initiative known as Russia 2045 are to be believed, life is about to get very, very interesting.
The promotional video for the group, which aims to create technology that can “download” the knowledge in a human brain, is like a trailer for a Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster — the booming intonations of a British announcer, dramatic, synthesized music and shots of the cosmos that make you feel like you’re entering hyperspace in the Millennium Falcon.
It is, in other words, not the type of thing you’d expect from a group that hopes to get the world comfortable with a future of synthetic brains and of “thought-controlled avatars” that would make your next business trip to Milwaukee or Tokyo wholly unnecessary. Instead of a “chicken in every pot,” they promise an “android robot servant for every home.”
In an e-mail, the project’s founder, Dmitry Itskov, described this vision in detail: “The creation of avatars will change everything in our societies: politics, economics, medicine, health care, food industry, construction methods, transportation, trade, banking, etc. The whole architecture of society will be transformed, there will be an increase in its self-organization, people will unite to fight the biggest and most universal problem of humankind — that of death.”
Whatever the viability of such claims, there’s little doubt that the pace of innovation is going to lead us into interesting places, and perhaps sooner than we think. The cost of high-powered computing drops ever lower, video games grow increasingly realistic, and, thanks largely to Apple’s voice-activated personal assistant Siri, people find more reasons to consult their mobile devices before the person sitting next to them.
Many have lamented that these communication breakthroughs have made us isolated. Texting is the new talking, or so the theory goes. The prospect of a robot that can take over the brain of your wife or best friend upon death? That takes fears of human social isolation to a whole new level.
So what happens when we don’t even have to get off the couch to go to a parent-teacher conference or have lunch with a client living 6,000 miles away? What if we can “transfer” our brains to an avatar before we die? What about robots that possess human-level intelligence?
Intelligence: the new frontier
So far, the widely held social-isolation theory has proved false. We may have reason to worry, but we’re worrying about the wrong thing: it’s not isolation, but intelligence, that is likely to change our world in fundamental ways.
“Almost every study I’ve ever seen has shown a neutral to positive effect [of connected devices on social interaction],” said Keith Hampton, a professor of communications at Rutgers University. “It doesn’t minimize the exceptions, but all the data suggests that people who use these things are more engaged in public life than others.”