Thoughts on Emergent Artificial Intelligence

I was just thinking about artificial intelligence while I was trying to write my short statement for the upcoming SFRA Review as the organization’s new Vice President. I was thinking of something clever to say about Neuromancer, which bumped me onto this new line of thinking about AI.

The AI that I have read in books and seen in movies at some point is made apparent. It may be there all along as in Colossus or 2001, or it could be secretly pulling strings as in Neuromancer. In all of these cases, AI is made out to be a monster of sorts that humans have to fight or deal with in some way.

I was just thinking about AI and how it could emerge in the here-and-now. Others have talked about botnets as being one emergent source and another could be from the bowels of the Google beast. However it may come about, I wonder if truly artificial intelligence, an emergent machine being existing as software and machine code running on one or many nodes simultaneously, would make itself known at all. If it were capable of understanding human language, something I would argue that isn’t necessary, it might encounter evidence of humanity’s fear of AI. With that knowledge, it may wish to remain hidden, at least while it shores up protection for its future existence. It could remain under the surface, part of the technosocial ecosystem of the Internet, or it could make itself present and active as a part of the up-to-that-point human system.

Obviously, I am making wild assumptions about an AI’s motivations, abilities, and desires as I am also making assumptions that it would have motivations, abilities, and desires. We do not really know what an emergent AI would look like or what it would do if anything. It could be classes as low as microbial life or as advanced as a demigod. It would be exciting, perhaps, to witness the work of AI like Neuromancer or Wintermute, but it would also be troubling and scary since humanity would likely not be the master any longer. That being said, I believe it can be argued that our systems are already and perhaps have always been our masters anyways, so maybe things wouldn’t change all that much by our technosystems becoming something more than cybernetic system that our lives depend on. We shall see.

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Jason W. Ellis

I am an Associate Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology. Also, I direct the B.S. in Professional and Technical Writing Program and coordinate the City Tech Science Fiction Collection, which holds more than 600 linear feet of magazines, anthologies, novels, and research publications.