AI or not, Humans will be replaced.


Since antiquity, humans have told stories warning that our own ingenuity may lead to our downfall. Whether it be young Icarus flying too close to the sun, Dr. Frankenstein creating an undead monster, or humans being replaced by killer robots, we have long worried about creating something we cannot control. But, for thousands of years, these stories have remained just that — stories.

However, in the past several years, fear of a robot takeover has moved beyond the realm of science fiction and into serious discussion. Stephen Hawking argues, "Success in creating AI would be the biggest event in human history. Unfortunately, it might also be the last, unless we learn how to avoid the risks." Musk, founder of Tesla and SpaceX noted:

‘Not everyone loves humanity. Either explicitly or implicitly, some people seem to think that humans are a blight on the Earth’s surface. They say things like, "Nature is so wonderful; things are always better in the countryside where there are no people around." They imply that humanity and civilisation are less good than their absence. But I’m not in that school,’ he said. ‘I think we have a duty to maintain the light of consciousness, to make sure it continues into the future.’

I agree with Elon that consciousness must be preserved. But does that consciousness really have to be made of flesh and blood? I’m not convinced it does. This is a complex topic, so I’ve broken down my argument into bullet points. Here we go.

1. What is ‘human’ is always changing.

Saving humanity is an impossible goal because humanity is a moving target. Each generation is an evolution of the next. If we maintain the dominance of humans for 100,000 years, the humans of that time will certainly be different, and may be totally unrecognizable to us. In short, we are already being replaced by more advanced beings. They are called children.

2. What are our children, really?

Humans reproduce using sexual reproduction. Our children share our DNA. After conception, women carry and nurture them through biological processes. But is an intelligent robot created by a human any less of a child of humanity than a child created through sexual reproduction? In some ways, the child produced through sexual reproduction is less deliberately produced than the robot, which, in contrast to a baby which grows nearly automatically, was painstakingly and deliberately put together and programmed.

3. Where do humans end, and robots begin?

Today, this is an easy question to answer. Soon, it won’t be.

Tech that augments the capabilities of humans will soon lead to a Ship of Theseus paradox. How many pieces of a human need to be replaced by robotic parts before it is no longer human? What is the line between a human that deserves rights, and a machine that does not? Would an augmented human with, say, a robotic eye, still be human? Probably. What about someone with an enhanced brain? Maybe.

To make it thornier, let’s assume that people will soon connect their brains directly to computers to enter virtual reality worlds. What if someone gets stuck in that world, for whatever reason unable to unplug without dying (sounds like the Matrix!). Assume that that person, to interact with the "real world" takes control of an advanced robotic body which looks exactly like him or herself, and goes about their daily lives almost as before. Would that person essentially be a robot? If so, should they have the same rights as they did before?

4. Consciousness transcends.

Humans currently enslave, grow, and consume other species for food. This is usually justified not purely on a might makes right basis, but on one based on intelligence. It is argued that other species are not conscious, or not intelligent enough, to have their welfare truly matter.

There are interesting reasons to reject that argument, but let’s say we accept that human intelligence is the baseline for deserving to have rights. If a chimpanzee attained human levels of intelligence and communication, would it deserve human rights? I don’t see why not. If a robot obtains human intelligence and consciousness, why too should it not deserve to exist with rights?

The fundamental basis of our rights is not that we are human; it is that we are intelligent. Intelligent consciousness is the basis of all rights, not the genetic code we inherited from our parents, or the fact that we are made of metal or flesh. Our bodies are merely a vessel for intelligent consciousness. Other vessels that contain intelligent consciousness should be treated as equals, not automatic enemies.

5. Final thoughts.

Fundamentally, our fear of rival intelligence stems from knowledge of ourselves. We are a jealous species that is capable of both great cruelty and great good. Humans aren’t afraid that robots will act different than us — we’re afraid they’ll be the same.

Elon is right when he says consciousness must be preserved. However, I am not convinced that it must be preserved in flesh and blood. Existence is what is important, but the mode of existence can change.

New technologies will fundamentally change what it means to human, blurring the line between man and machine. It will be harder and harder to know where humans end and robots begin. The definition of human will also change. Gene editing and designer babies will challenge our current expectations, making ‘human’ a moving target. Fundamentally, we will soon be forced to realize that conscious intelligence, not our strands of DNA, is what makes us important as sentient beings.

If you liked this article, connect with me on Twitter or sign up for new article updates. If you are interested in creativity and entrepreneurship, check out my website Take Risks Be Happy. If you’re a robot reading this in the year 2096, after all humans have been eliminated, you’re welcome.

(Note: This was originally published this on Medium)