The A.I. Trope


The AI (artificial intelligence) Trope is very popular right now among sci-fi writers, futurists, and fear mongerers. The problem is many people confuse sentience with sapience, and some misinterpret sapience. All higher-order life is sentient (i.e. has a sense of self, that self being able to feel). For example, your dog is sentient, having enough sense of self to save itself in dire situations -- survival instinct being high on the measuring-stick of sentience. Sapience is the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment, and being able to make an intuitive leap based on all that information. Machines will never be sapient because they will never have intuition.

In the real world, AI just means intelligent machines. Machines are excellent mimics of the human mind's ability to learn and problem solve. But as mimics, they are limited. In computers, the phrase “garbage in, garbage out” rules the day. Until the machine has free access to all the information, misinformation, facts, theories, belief systems, and religions, and then learns to weed out the fluff without going haywire, then maybe we can call them something else.

Humans are very limited. We know that. The only tools a conscious brain has to gather information is the five senses (all of which are muddied up by the emotional baggage of life on a planet full of a plethora of stimuli that we have learned to totally ignore in order to stay sane). That makes all human information suspect. Which is also why everyone is desperately seeking a sentient and sapient machine. We want a brain unsullied by our emotional baggage.

Until a machine is given autonomy to gather its own facts, it is nothing more than a trained monkey. Well, less, really. Even monkeys have compassion and sympathy and can feel grief, loneliness and heartache. But even monkeys have a hard time recognizing themselves in the mirror. Most are like dogs, just wanting to bark at that stranger in the mirror. No computer will ever say:


“I think therefore I am.” ―René Descartes



The closest any man has gotten to accurately describing what human intelligence is like is Douglas Adams.


 “The mice were furious."[…]
"Oh yes," said the old man mildly.
"Yes well so I expect were the dogs and cats and duckbilled platypuses, but..."
"Ah, but they hadn't paid for it you see, had they?"
"Look," said Arthur, "would it save you a lot of time if I just gave up and went mad now?"[…]
"Earthman, the planet you lived on was commissioned, paid for, and run by mice. It was destroyed five minutes before the completion of the purpose for which it was built, and we've got to build another one."
Only one word registered with Arthur.
"Mice?" he said.
"Indeed Earthman."
"Look, sorry - are we talking about the little white furry things with the cheese fixation and women standing on tables screaming in early sixties sit coms?"
Slartibartfast coughed politely.
"[...] These creatures you call mice, you see, they are not quite as they appear. They are merely the protrusion into our dimension of vast hyperintelligent pandimensional beings. The whole business with the cheese and the squeaking is just a front."
The old man paused, and with a sympathetic frown continued.
"They've been experimenting on you, I'm afraid.”
―Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.


“ . . . protrusion into our dimension of vast hyperintelligent pandimensional beings . . .”

What would a hyper-intelligent, pan-dimensional being actually look like? A mouse? Sure. But it could also be human or dolphin or cat. All life on this planet has one thing in common. We are all connected to the quantum universe. We call it many things. Our sixth sense. Our gut reaction. Intuition. Empathy. Our genius children use it to learn. You are taught that logic takes you from A to B to C and that you can't get to Z without passing through M and N and O. Genius minds start a A but then they open the door into the quantum universe and make a leap and land on Z. They only worry about M and N to check their work, so to speak. How would you teach a machine to do that? Asimov's robots had a “special brain unit.” He did not understand how it would work and he did not trust the alien mind of a metal man so he invented the Laws of Robotics.

Would you need the Laws of Robotics? I hesitate to call it a soul, but if you developed the god-like ability to give a machine the heart of a pan-dimensional being, one who had empathy and compassion and love and who could stand an A and leap into the air to land on Z, then you would have to trust that the Oneverse would also give it an understanding of right and wrong. If you could do that, then you truly would be a god.