Source: Religion and Politics
By Ellen Duffer
The concept of artificial intelligence has been fuel for science fiction since at least 1920, when the Czech writer Karel Čapek published R.U.R., his play about a mutiny led by a throng of robots. Speculation about the future of intelligent machines has run rampant in the intervening decades but recently has taken a more critical turn. Artificial intelligence (AI) is no longer imaginary, and the implications of its future development are far-reaching. As computer scientists confirm their intent to push the limits of AI capabilities, religious communities and thinkers are also debating how far AI should go—and what should happen as it becomes part of the fabric of everyday life.
“Scientists want to be at the cutting edge of research, and they want the contribution to knowledge,” says Brendan Sweetman, chair of philosophy at Rockhurst University. “But at the same time, a lot of what they do raises moral questions.”
Artificial intelligence is already pervasive. It’s embedded in iPhone’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa, which are apps designed to answer questions (albeit in a limited way). It powers the code that translates Facebook posts into multiple languages. It’s part of the algorithm that allows Amazon to suggest products to specific users. The AI that is enmeshed in current technology is task-based, or “weak AI.” It is code written to help humans do specific jobs, using a machine as an intermediary; it’s intelligent because it can improve how it performs tasks, collecting data on its interactions. This often imperceptible process, known as machine learning, is what affords existing technologies the AI moniker.
The sensationalizing of AI is not a product of weak AI. It is, instead, a fear of “strong AI,” or what AI could someday become: artificial intelligence that is not task-based, but rather replicates human intelligence in a machine.