Up Front 11/16

Dorset resident and ‘Gaia theory’ scientist James Lovelock took a bit of flak for some of his comments in a recent article in the Guardian. Interviewed by Decca Aitkenhead, he had dramatically shifted his position on climate change since their last meeting in 2008. She described him as a ‘mischievous provocateur’, and from the comments and articles posted on various specialist websites and press, after the article’s publication, it looks like he certainly provoked debate—especially when he declared that robots will have taken over the world by the end of the century. But according to neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris, the professor may have a point. In a recent TED Talk, Harris suggested that humans are suffering from a failure to recognise the danger posed by our unstoppable march toward more and more powerful computers. His concern is that ‘the gains we make in artificial intelligence could ultimately destroy us.’ These gains, such as learning how to combat Alzheimer’s and cancer; invent sustainable economic systems and develop climate science will ensure that we develop more and more processing power to the point that computers—that already process much faster than we can—will eventually learn to make themselves even more intelligent. The final scenario is that we will somehow have developed what Harris refers to as ‘some sort of God’. According to James Lovelock, this new God, (or Gods), may be so intelligent that it, (or they), won’t be able to talk to us and may view us a little like we view trees at the moment: not in a ‘lungs of the earth’ way, but as ancient organisms that can’t understand us. Aitkenhead suggested that in that case perhaps the robots might like to hug us. But just in case we miss a vital step in the process of creating this new God, (or Gods), Ryan Abbott, Professor of Law and Health Sciences at the University of Surrey’s School of Law has just proposed that non-humans should be allowed to be named as inventors on patents. He suggests that because computers will be doing all the inventing ‘it is critical that we extend the laws around inventorship to include computers.’ Seriously?