Keep Your Friends Close

In seminar today, we talked a great deal about artificial intelligence; its past, present, and future, and, most abstractly, its relationship to humanity. Some were optimists, some pessimists, and some of us were somewhere in between. When AI surpasses us, will the result be dystopian culling, utopian leisure, or will humans be so insignificant to the AI that it ignores us all together, or treats us like pets?

As I walked out of the classroom, I did what is at this point reflex; I spun my phone in my hand, brushed my finger over the home button, and swept left to the suggested apps; then I opened my email. Naturally, my phone knew just what was on my mind.

This is the type of artificial intelligence that most of us come in contact with daily. Artificial intelligence that is by our sides, at our fingertips, part of our bodies. Even more dispersed intelligences like Google’s translate are most commonly accessed through our mobile devices. Is there any reason to think that, as AI improves, it won’t continue to travel alongside us?

Western culture prizes individual ownership. Corporations prize revenue, which they make off of their ability to reach individual people, wether through their physical devices or through their advertising. As AI improves, this will continue to be the case. I believe it is a distinct possibility that we will create AI to be a part of us, not apart from us.

What will this look like? Perhaps at first a personal digital assistant that we bear with us always- like our phones. Eventually we might begin to give it access to our biometrics; our heart rate, and such; perhaps through a watch-like device that can communicate with our phone.

All joking aside, of course, technology is growing closer and closer to us both socially and physically. There is little reason to believe that we won’t make the jump to imbedded technologies sometime in the near future; artificial intelligence implanted in our brain, giving us the memory of Google and fluency in every language on Earth, diagnosing us when we are sick, motivating us on a run. AI could become an extension of our bodies and beings, rather than something outside of us that operates on its own.

What does this do to our future scenarios? The optimistic view holds intact; humans can use their vastly magnified intelligences to solve every problem we biological beings face, and can spread technological augmentation across the globe. In the end, non-sentient machines will do base labor, and our augmented brains will be free to ponder intellectual questions. In this scenario, we are the AI; there is still a reason to think and to learn, because we are still the most sophisticated species on Earth.

Like the optimistic scenario, the pessimistic scenario holds as well, although with some changes. Instead of the AI itself deciding humanity is unnecessary, the augmented humans progress so fast that they decide the un-augmented are unnecessary. As the mere mortals continue to pollute and drain the Earth’s resources, there is no telling what a ‘higher race’ of man would do; perhaps this future would involve some sort of zoo-like relationship, or something akin to a Shepard herding sheep, or a removal of the un-augmented entirely.

Unfortunately, due to the way I have posited that these changes come about, scenario two seems much more likely. When AI is born of capitalism and augmentation takes payment, there is no reason to believe that it will be spread equitably among humanity. The poor will naturally fall behind, while the wealthy surge forward at ever greater speeds as they gain intelligence, wealth and power exponentially. In this scenario, we must depend on either logic or compassion to save us. Logic dictates that society will be better off if all members are hyper intelligent and skillful; compassion demands that we spread the gains of technology.

These are only a few possibilities for the future of AI. The unfortunate reality is that we will not know which one is true until we are living it.


  1. Jim Waldo

    October 22, 2017 @ 8:09 pm


    Very nice post; i like the way you have posited alternative futures.

    The one disruption that might turn the second scenario around is the ability of those who are in less developed technology environments to skip over the current incumbents and reach a future state very quickly. Cell phone use in much of the third world progressed much faster than in the first, because there was no incumbent phone system to overcome…they went directly to the cell system. Similarly, Estonia became the most Internet-centric country in the world by skipping the circuit-based phone network and going directly to IP.

    I’m not at all sure that the same will happen with AI technologies, but I can imagine some situations where it might. Using individual sensors and smart phones for medicine could be much easier in a country with little or no medical establishment to push back against the wide deployment of that technology. But doing that someplace like the U.S. would require taking on one sixth of the economy, which is difficult to do.

    It will be interesting to watch. You may be right, but I think there are other futures, as well…

  2. profsmith

    October 22, 2017 @ 10:29 pm


    Fantastic post, and Jim’s comments are an interesting alternative that might make the future less predetermined by what we see today.

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