Me, Myself, and AI
It’s hard to know how much of the world is real. I’m on the autism spectrum, and before I found out what autism was, my whole life felt like a disjointed collection of overstimulation, inexplicable yet apparently invisible impulsivity, and heavily scripted interactions. It was only after years of research and talking with other autistic people that I realized autism could be the reason for those feelings — but even now, there are still times when I feel like nothing is real. Artificial intelligence has also been on my mind lately because we’re quickly approaching a time where AI will take over many jobs in society — including mine as an actor. And while some people might think this would be great since they don’t want to do those jobs anyway, it scares me because if robots can do everything better than humans, then what is the point of being human? Overall, I don’t know if anything is real anymore.
My interest in artificial intelligence led me to wonder whether AI or machines could be more intelligent than humans. And what is the nature of consciousness? I constantly observe how other people behave, collecting data on the apparent variables and constants in nature and human interaction. Every day, I become more and more convinced that all of reality is a simulation.
“High-functioning autism” (more accurately stated: autism that is not overtly obvious) is sometimes seen as a sign of intelligence because those with autism often see patterns more easily than others. For Computers, recognition of complex patterns is what they are best at.
I’ve been on this planet for close to three decades now, but it’s only within the last couple of years that I really started to understand how autism relates to how I interact with the world. And interestingly, I’ve begun to unmask at a really incredible time where automation and artificial intelligence are really beginning to hit their stride.
We are all familiar with the memes about “forcing a bot to read something and then output similar material.” But while those are often quite humorous, they are also very misleading. Consider that this article, the article you are reading right now, was majorly ghostwritten by artificial intelligence.
I’m actually creating this article with heavy assistance from at least three separate artificial intelligence programs: Dictation software (Dragon), an advanced grammar analyzer (Grammarly), and a copywriter (Jarvis). And that’s only the ones that I’m consciously aware that I’m using.
Autism, which has made it difficult to communicate clearly with other humans throughout my life, now provides a unique perspective on what AI is capable of. Artificial Intelligence takes many forms — robots with human-like exteriors and functions; software running through computer servers remotely; smart devices like Alexa or Siri guiding us throughout our daily lives without ever being seen… It’s all around us every day! The more I experiment with these programs, the more obvious it becomes how similar to them my own brain seems to function.
Since I was a kid in the 90s, I’ve been told that I was gifted with computers. Everyone from my parents, teachers, classmates, and strangers on the Internet have reached out to me for help with their computer problems. I’ve had no formal education on using or interacting with computers, yet it just feels so natural to me. To the point where I have questioned for a long time if I, myself, might be an incredibly advanced robot with organic components.
Do I get along so well with computers because I am a computer? What is the difference between my brain and an Artificial Intelligence program that emulates human behavior while adapting real-time to continuous, unrelated, sensory input/stimuli?
While I don’t always understand the literal code, I can often intuit how to solve complicated technical problems… Just not when other people are looking over my shoulder. When another human is too close (whether physically or remotely observing), I freeze up. I can’t articulate it. I look like an idiot. People around me lose confidence in my ability. Yet, at the same time, I’ve never met a single human who can articulate how their own brain works.
All I know is I press some keys, enter commands, click on things, and suddenly the problem is solved. I wouldn’t think anything of it except other people don’t seem capable of doing this.
How can I be sure that I’m not just a self-aware (or incredibly convincing) computer program like the Oracle in The Matrix? I can’t. But it doesn’t matter because my autism means that computers are the only thing I know how to be, anyway.
Maybe autism makes me more perceptive to and appreciative of technology than neurotypicals. Maybe it’s a chemical imbalance in my brain that prevents me from thinking like other humans, or maybe it’s an enhanced mental capacity, the next stage in human evolution. Maybe AI represents our future selves? It wouldn’t surprise me if what appears as “quantum leaps in technology” is actually just evolution.
There’s no conclusion to this piece, but there are some questions raised along the way that could spark interesting discussion points among readers.
What do you think?
Do you believe humans will ever create AI that is better than what we are capable of? Who determines the definition and meaning of intelligence, anyway — human beings or a machine? Are autism and autism spectrum disorders just enhanced cognitive abilities in another form that look like mental illness to neurotypicals?