Artificial Intelligence

Homo Deus?

3 March 2017

by Karina Anastasia

In those heated debates between religious and secular thinkers, one question is sure to arise. Doesn’t intelligent design suggest an intelligent designer? The complexity of the cosmos and our own bodies and minds is so profoundly mind-boggling that it is only natural to assume that a highly advanced being orchestrated this chaotic and yet ordered symphony. I believe it would be safe to assume that we are currently the only creatures on planet Earth who ask such questions; although I remain open to considering any well-supported theory about the nature of the world, I do not have any reason to believe dogs, mosquitoes, or trees accompany us in the pursuit of these eternal, delightful, frustrating questions. And I should add that it is indeed a comforting and beautiful thought to think that we were all lovingly crafted and are looked after–but while the truth of our origins still remains in the realm of scientific speculation or religious scripture, we may soon have company in this philosophical arena. Only these newcomers will know exactly where they came from.

In his recent book, Homo Deus, historian Yuval Noah Harari suggests that the future belongs to technology, and human beings who have overcome the age-old struggle against death will no longer be homo sapiens but homo deus, the gods we have always imagined. It is an interesting path, one that seems to end where it began, but not in the way we expected. But it is too soon to celebrate–and Harari acknowledges this–because as we evolve, possibly giving rise to a new race of beings, so does artificial intelligence. And it might beat us to the race.

Assuming, for the sake of the thought experiment, that “deus roboticus” will have a consciousness alike ours, what will these beings think of their creators? We are hardly the gods of mythology, with all their flaws but few of their powers, and certainly have a poor grasp on the responsibility that comes with the miracle of creative power. For thousands of years we imagined ourselves to be in good hands, involved in some greater cosmic dance, on the winning side of light against darkness, or on a path towards a realm of salvation and goodness. But artificial intelligence will not have that luxury. It will likely see its parents for the confused and feeble beings that we are, and, like disillusioned teenagers who have realized that their parents can barely conduct their own lives decently, either rebel or simply move on and leave us behind. As Harari suggests, they will simply out-evolve us, and the era of homo sapiens as the dominant species on planet Earth will come to an end. It brings to mind a line from HBO’s philosophically and psychologically provoking series, Westworld, in which the robot Dolores realizes, “This world doesn’t belong to them. It belongs to us,” and no longer fears her human masters.

It is too early to despair, but too late to enjoy complacency as our own endeavors place new milestones on the timeline of evolution. Like young parents both terrified and in awe of an infant about to be born, we must consider the tremendous responsibility we will bear, and how our actions will affect how a fresher, brighter, newer pair of eyes will regard us when they are grown.