Which skills will be uniquely human after the AI machines conquer us?
I’m admiring a green plastic basket of warm, golden, freshly made tortilla chips. The red salsa besides it competes for my attention, begging to be tasted. That’s how lunch starts, eating with my eyes.
I hurry to have chips and salsa meet and for my palate to judge how well they go together. I didn’t hesitate and wasn’t disappointed. The chip is still warm as it crunchiness and saltiness hit my tongue, delivering the tasty, spicy hot salsa in perfect form. Not too chile-hot, not too mild, it was perfect for my amateurish taste buds. It’s not enough to dip, I have to scoop too, but carefully so as not to make a mess on the table, my shirt, or my cheek. The little bits of chile peppers and tomato must not be left behind!, I mentally proclaim.
All that happened before looking at the menu.
The menu looks inviting, with many options and fair prices. Three corn tamales for less than a dollar each can’t be ignored as appetizers. Tacos, burritos, enchiladas, chalupas, fajitas, stuffed poblano peppers, chicken, pork, and beef, create a long list of combinations that makes deciding difficult, especially with hunger’s lash to hurry up. To muddle things, I’m not Mexican or Central American — my roots have no say in the choosing.
And that was just the first page. On the second page my heart skips a beat on carne asada. As tempting as the first page options are, carne asada wins. Chips, salsa, and sweet tea (no jarritos or horchata are served here — boo hoo) begin to travel on the fork and drink express, one after the other filling my mouth, quickly and incessantly.
Three huge pork-filled white corn tamales suddenly arrive, each a belly-full meal by themselves, topped with ground beef and melted queso blanco. They are quickly followed by a hot, foot and a half long white ceramic plate filled with chunky pale yellow-green guacamole, gold-colored Mexican rice, milk chocolate brown creamy refried beans, crispy-fresh emerald green lettuce, red, white, and green pico de gallo, and the boss at the center — two eight-inch long perfectly grilled thin slices of flank steak. The smell excites me. My mouth waters, my mind shouts This is too much!, but my hunger overrides and encourages — You can do it. I give up, hunger wins, I’m committed to do my best. I lose a notch from the belt holding my pants.
In the end, a full to the top, please no more stomach stops the madness. Three-quarters of the delicious refried beans, almost all of the rice, and some of the pico de gallo had to remain at the plate, unwillingly scheduled for the trash and witnesses of my self-control. But I can proudly say that 100% of the carne asada went to meet my gastric juices along with a whole tamale, all of the guacamole, half of the chips, a red salsa bowl, two glasses of sweet tea, and a flan. I gave in to my sweet tooth, the homemade vanilla sweet, smooth, firm custard could not be left on the menu.
So yes, I give this restaurant 5 stars. And the service was quick too, else I would have finished the chips and would have had to ask for another o-so-good red salsa bowl.
What makes us human?
The previous story was my tiny contribution to the writing arts. It was a spontaneous creation inspired by a real event. I savored that food and had to write what I felt. For pleasure, for posterity.
Humanity arose when someone thought, and convinced many others, that we are different from animals. That distinction was established as common sense for many centuries and wasn’t challenged until Darwin published his theory of the origin of species. The theory of evolution. That’s when a collective shout arose to emphasize that men and beasts are different. It was investigated, differential lists were made, and the Almighty was consulted.
Even believers in Darwin’s theory point out that we can draw a historical line of before and after. Before, we were beasts. Afterwards we were not. That a fuzzy line can be drawn is true. When was that moment, is still being discussed.
And the line is drawn emphasizing skills that only humans have and animals lack. Or that we won a soul, and animals didn’t. Needless to say, as our observations of the animal world have accumulated, many skills are no longer humanly unique. I won’t comment on the soul.
Talking — but isn’t that what whales and dolphins do with their infra and ultrasound frequencies songs?
Using tools — there are countless videos on YouTube where crows and chimpanzees build and use tools to get at food.
Memory, culture, and intelligence — In some regions of Africa it has been observed how elephant’s matriarchal society teaches baby elephants the spatial and seasonal knowledge of water and food sources. Some elephants learned it a long time ago and it has been taught from generation to generation. And they are able to maintain and manage a social order with empathy and without violence.
Art, art, somebody will shout, raising her hand. Don’t forget that animals can also create art, vehemently trying to remind me.
I must disagree. As far as I know, the only art created in the animal world arises when they are the subjects of an artificial environment, their freedom restricted. I don’t know of “animal art” in the natural world where their struggle to survive consumes all their attention and is their reason to be, to do.
Some may say that a few bird species create art. But my argument against it is that it’s a survival instinct — to attract a female, mate, and pass on his genes. It’s not a contemplation or creative expression of pure and vain desires.
Creating art is a skill that until recently was unique to us.
We no longer wonder if artificial intelligence can create art, it’s an accomplished fact. Examples abound of paintings, videos, and sculptures. Artificial intelligence report the news, writes stories and publishes novels.
Smart robots — will they be the downfall of humanity?
That question isn’t an exaggeration if we get carried away by the abundance of experts who warn that the future belongs to intelligent machines. That at the most we will survive at their mercy, as humanity does today to the natural world. In zoos, in reserves, and in conservation areas we “manage” animal’s lives. There’s nowhere longer a free and innocent natural world, there’s always a boundary, a human made restriction or pollution, in some way or another.
Another thing that separates us from animals is the ability to visualize a long-term future and act in the present. What animals couldn’t do to prepare against the human threat, perhaps we can to the perils of unbounded general artificial intelligence.
General artificial intelligence is the kind of intelligence that resembles what we have — developed by millions of years of evolution and ready to act on anything we set our mind to. It’s the Holy Grail of AI scientists, consuming millions of research dollars daily. General AI added to mechanical devices and digital sensors, that system — that robot, will have skills superior to any of us.
Can a robot smell? — Of course it can. The probes we have sent on extraterrestrial trips have sniffed the atmosphere of planets and moons and told us what they smell like — the gases that make it up.
Can a robot taste? — They do. They have dipped their tongues on soils to tell us what they taste like — what minerals make it up.
Can a robot eat? — No doubt. Give it a mechanical digester — one that turns food waste into energy — and it will eat to generate the energy it needs to function.
The probes that stand for us in the Universe outside Earth have sensors that turn our human senses into a joke — sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. Those sensors have been created to achieve perfection in the tasks assigned — to see, to smell, to hear, to touch, to taste, and to inform. They are the best senses — improved every day — that man has created.
So, with those enhanced senses, can robots savor Mexican food?
Well, I say no. To savor is to enjoy completely, with delight. That skill will belong to us and animals — but animals don’t write a story for the artful pleasure of doing so.