When artificial intelligence meets human stupidity

On the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, God reaches out to create Adam through the brain’s frontal lobe

Cherine Fahim, Founder and CEO, Endoxa Neuroscience


From the US Government’s Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnology initative (BRAIN) to Google’s deep-learning artificial intelligence (AI) project, Brain; from Facebook hiring neuroscientists to work on a brain-computer interface to Elon Musk’s Neuralink, a company that aims to download your mind; or Bryan Johnson’s Kernel, a company that wants to merge the human brain with AI — the race to develop advanced AI is accelerating more rapidly by the day.

There is a rough agreement among many AI experts that the technological singularity — the moment when machine intelligence supersedes human intelligence, and life as we know it changes unrecognisably — will take place soon after 2030. But how should this machine intelligence be configured? Could it be based on the structure and function of the human brain?

The learning, memories and emotions that made you who you are, your common sense, decisions, intuitions, free-will, morality and your consciousness are part of your brain, and as such we know they can be stored. But can they be replicated? A brain is composed of approximately 100 billion neurons, which are interconnected electrically and chemically by around 100 trillion connections that make you feel, imagine and think. Do the math.

Should we be worried at the prospect of the singularity? Excited? Afraid? Surprised? Or lost in this scientific jargon? Or should we be more worried about merging artificially intelligent machines (AIM) not with human intelligence, but with human stupidity?

To answer these overwhelming questions, let’s start from the beginning: the Book of Genesis, and the creation of Adam. On the ceiling of the Sistine chapel, Michelangelo has depicted God wrapped in a shape that represents the brain. He wanted to suggest that God not only endowed Adam with life, but also with intelligence. This shape mirrors the form of the human brain cortex: the site of our intelligence, decision-making, conscious awareness and morality. Intriguingly, God’s arm reaches out out from the brain’s frontal lobe — specifically the cingulate gyrus, a brain region known to be implicated in cognitive and emotional error monitoring and decision-making. With it, God is touching Adam’s hand.

The simple message encoded in this painting conveys the merger between the brain and HI. Since our ‘creation’, our cognitive and emotional behaviours have been shaped by our brain, and undeniably these behaviours shape our brain.

Today, ‘Adam’ strives not only to create AIM, but also to endow these machines with a human touch. The question is will he also endow AIM with ‘free-will’ — the ability to make their own decisions?

In this modern creation story, humans first created AIM and then discovered that they could not compete or follow these machines’ wild pace of capabilities. Energy and resources have thus been mobilised to accelerate the creation of neuroprosthetics, brain-machine interfaces, a neural lace surrounding the cortex (to augment HI) by linking it to AIM, and even uploading minds to the cloud.

Igniting a human-AIM revolution opened a Pandora’s box full of ambiguous possibilities and difficulties. For example, imagine making a certain decision intuitively, when an AIM knows or prefers an alternative answer — accordingly it sends suppressive neural code to certain brain regions and changes your brain’s decision. Who is in charge now?

Designing and implementing AIM capable of communicating or merging with human intelligence demands knowledge about the human brain. Indeed, the last decades have witnessed a plethora of neuroscience studies investigating the brain’s functional and anatomical regions, hubs, nodes and networks. These regions play a central role in enabling efficient communication between cortical regions, together forming a densely interconnected ‘rich club’. However, we are discovering more and more that these regions more closely resemble a Matryoshka doll, yet with potentially infinite probabilities.

The issue here is that fMRI and EEG are the building blocks on which visionaries and scientists are building their ideas about merging humans and AIM. The singularity movement is striving to interface the digital world with the human brain for the purpose of augmenting or repairing human cognition and emotions, and potentially human longevity.

Augmented human intelligence is full of both promises and pitfalls. It suggests the possibility that we can turn short-term memories into stronger long-term memories; erase traumatic memories, or make them weaker; inhibit unwanted thoughts; improve our decision-making and enhance both deep learning and reinforcement learning.

However, our knowledge about these brain functions and their anatomical structures is still under investigation — and because of the possible limitations of neuroimaging studie and technology, the results we have may be full of false positives. Neuroimaging neuroscience research has indeed made giant leaps towards providing a live stream of our brain activity — but nevertheless, our journey into the depths of the human brain and mind remains long and mysterious.

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The dilemma of merging rational, tangible and mathematically configured AIM with a human mind — which is, in contrast, irrational and intangible both emotionally, socially and cognitively — is extremely challenging. We are still far from fully scrutinising the inner workings of the human mind. And so before we can connect it to AIM, we should remain aware that the bar to doing so is immensely high. Let’s hope that brain science fiction will soon become brain science facts — and that the merger of humans with AIM will turn to be a merger with human intelligence, and not human stupidity.

Because a poorly created human-AIM merger has the potential to rapidly escalate dangerous situations, with catastrophic conclusions. A poorly merged system that gets hacked, controlled or shut down may comprise our morality, privacy or security. AIM are currently built without a capacity for self-modification; humans, however, are created with this capacity: it is called neuroplasticity. Imagine an intelligent machine (a warrior-robot, for example) having access to human neuroplasticity. Now imagine a stupid, greedy and immoral human having access to the power of a warrior-robot. Are you worried yet?

Keep in mind that notwithstanding the scale and pace of neurotechnology, the merger of human intelligence with AIM is still in its infancy — albeit an infant that we are vigorously feeding, both intellectually and financially, in order to bring it to maturity as soon as possible. While feeding this infant, we should not forget that humans are fiendishly complex and unpredictable. Human evolution was ignited by an uneven process of natural selection, based itself on greed and fear. Imagine merging these qualities with AIM. What would be the result? Brain hacking, loss of free-will, cognitive thoughts becoming dependent on AIM, fewer self-generated thoughts… Maybe this is the natural course of evolution for humans — or maybe we need to merge with super-intelligent machines if we are to become super humans.


Originally published at www.weforum.org.

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