Artificial intelligence answers life’s most important questions
Iain Thomas is a poet, novelist, and new media artist. His work focuses on the intersection of creativity and technology.
Jasmine Wang is a technologist and philosopher. She has worked with the Partnership on AI, the Future of Humanity Institute, OpenAI, Microsoft Research, and the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms.
Below, Jasmine and Iain share 5 key insights from their new book, What Makes Us Human: An Artificial Intelligence Answers Life’s Most Important Questions. Listen to the audio version, read by Iain himself, on the Next Big Idea app.
1. Artificial intelligence is a new way of being creative.
AI is a factor that blends creativity in ways that we don’t really understand yet, but we will all understand very quickly as this technology rolls out and becomes more accessible. It’s a kind of four-dimensional creativity.
You can come up with ideas that are capable of having their own ideas, in a way. I imagined the book, and the book wrote itself, thanks to the use of artificial intelligence. It is very difficult to predict where this technology is or what its creative potential really is. It is something like the invention of the steam engine. You can look at a steam engine and understand that the locomotives follow it, but you don’t see the entire industrial revolution, because all the use cases have not yet been explored.
AI is also a way to democratize creativity, where anyone and everyone can create in ways not otherwise accessible to them. Obviously, there’s a lot to be aware of, but there’s an equal amount, if not more, to be really, truly excited about. AI isn’t a perfect creative partner, but it’s pretty close. Never tires. He never complains. You never have to get up and go for a cup of coffee. At the same time, when you’re brainstorming with him, when you come up with ideas, some are incoherent and some aren’t even usable. When it is, every once in a while you get these bursts of what can only be described as brilliance of connecting things in ways a human being could never have seen.
2. AI is a new way of interacting with creative work, culture and media.
Through the construction of this book, I was in effect having a conversation with many different books. Today it is relatively easy to use accessible artificial intelligence technology to talk to a copy of Treasure Islandor a character from Treasure Island.
“AI is also a way to democratize creativity, where anyone and everyone can create in ways not otherwise accessible to them.”
In a way, AI is like a culture jukebox in the same way that a DJ can pull a record back and forth to scratch it, creating new kinds of music. We can use this technology to create and make new and different things and to engage with those things in different ways. Much like the rise of hip hop, where people used sampling to create entirely new forms of expression, we are at the dawn of a new era in terms of how we experience the world around us.
3. When you take the most profound, moving, spiritual, and inspiring text in human history, put it together, and ask questions, a pattern emerges.
Through the creative process of this book, we examined different answers to the different questions and the AI kept coming back to three different unique principles. The first is that love is the meaning of everything. Love is the purpose behind our lives; the reason we are here. The AI came back to him over and over again in many different ways.
The second is the idea that we must return to the present moment, that heaven, that paradise is within this present moment. As soon as we start to let go, and start dwelling on the past or get anxious about the future, we start to suffer.
The third principle, the AI came back again and again in a way that was perhaps much more frequent than the other two themes. It was this idea of connection, that we are fundamentally connected to each other and to the universe around us. These things seem obvious, maybe even trivial, but the point here reminds us of these really important, yet common sense lessons. It takes the full circle of AI to remind us of these fundamentally human things.
4. We need to get involved in conversations about this technology.
We have to be aware of this technology, and we have to be actively involved in all aspects of it. AI has very real potential to make the internet seem like a footnote in human history in terms of its profound impact on our culture and society.
“It was this idea of connection, that we are fundamentally connected to each other and to the universe around us.”
We all leave decisions about the Internet in the hands of a few people in Silicon Valley. It was the people who shaped it and made it what it is today, which was not a good idea. Today’s internet is defined by this mantra of moving fast and breaking things. When it comes to AI, we need to move to a place where we move slowly, we fix things, and we make really considered decisions, with all of us involved, to determine the kind of world we want to live in.
5. Artificial intelligence is and is not conscious at the same time.
It is not clear if we would consider artificial intelligence as suggested by a Google engineer a few months ago. We can feel something on the other side of GPT-3 when we interact with it, when we ask questions and get these answers. But that thing that we may be feeling, sensing, and interacting with could perhaps be the collective wisdom of humanity.
We record our thoughts by writing them down. If you take a piece of technology and have it analyze all of our thoughts to find the patterns in our language, then you’re talking to the sum total of who we are. Therefore, when you feel something on the other side of this technology, what you are feeling may be the sum total of who we are.
To hear the audio version read by co-author Iain Thomas, download the Next Big Idea app today: