Artificial Intelligence is the hot topic on many boards today. It is also the hot topic in many laboratories and software houses. The military is trying to harness it to replace humans, the game houses are trying to control it to make games more realistic and the appliance makers and homebuilders are trying to perfect it to make our lives easier. One of the great questions is, is artificial intelligence a good thing? It sure seems like it, doesn't it? Imagine coming home from a rough day at the office and your intelligent washer and dryer have not only washed and dried your clothes, but folded them as well. You meal is waiting for you but it was not prepared by human hands, instead your intelligent refrigerator has sent food to your oven which cooked it for you. You TV has turned itself on and switched to your favorite station so you might enjoy your meal with your favorite program. When you are done eating, the dishes are collected by a robotic machine and put into the dishwasher. An intelligent vacuum cleaner comes out and cleans the area where you were eating so that any crumbs that might have fallen were picked up immediately. You decide you want to talk to a few friends, so you tell your television that you want to make some phone calls and it connects you to several people at the same time creating a conference call, except you can see each person in a square on the TV. You talk for a while and then hang up. You feel like playing a game so you tell the TV and it replies, Name of Game Please and Play Human or Me?" If you decide to play a human you are immediately connected to the internet, if not, you are about to play one of the toughest opponents, the computer which is integrated into your TV. Oh look here comes the dog, a dog you never have to feed. It is the Sony dog, a slick little robotic dog that acts much like a real dog. You play with it for a while, but you get the urge. Into the bathroom you go. The toilet will examine all your waste products and if anything is wrong it will contact your doctor right away. Now you decide to go to bed and enter a room where clouds sail over the ceiling. You lay down and a soothing voice asks "What time shall I wake you and what sounds would you like to hear?" You tell the voice (it really is part of the computer in your tv) to wake you at 7:00 am and to play ocean sounds for 10 minutes.
Does all this sound good? Much of the above exists already. As we create smarter and smarter devices are we getting near creating life? At what point does something become aware? Can a computer ever become so smart that it is a living being? Some people think that we are nothing more than organic computers that were programmed and offer our genes as proof. One of the problems that exist today is how to tell if something is truly alive. If we were to build the perfect robot that could interact with humans without being detected as a machine, would it be considered alive? Many would say yes and many would say no. The yes people would say that because the robot can make decisions on its own that are the equivalent of decisions that a human would make than it must be alive. The no people would argue that it is simply following a program created by man and it is a machine without a soul.
If we taught an animal to react a certain way under certain conditions would this mean he was programmed and not alive? If we offer our dog a bone but only give it to him if he sits up and begs does this mean he is not alive but programmed? It seems that programming is not exclusive to life or self-awareness. Some says that computers are just a bunch of electrical circuits. I would have to remind them that without electricity the human body would be just a pile of skin, bones and organs. It seems that we have now eliminated electricity as being a reason to deny life to machines. Then there are those that say that computers are not alive because they only know what is programmed into them. I would have to remind these people that there are dynamic programs out there that allow machines to learn on their own. After all, isn't that the way we learn, we are programmed (school) and we also learn some things on our own (dynamic programming)? Neural networks are developing that mimic the behavior of our human brains. Computer 'creatures' have been created that can learn, age, procreate and finally die. Of course these creatures are very primitive by our standards.
Life certainly is not easy to define. Webster's Dictionary states that life is "The quality that distinguishes a vital and functional being from a dead body." It would seem that the Webster people considered only organic beings as being capable of life since they decided that a dead body was necessary for non-life. Yet there is a second definition by Webster that states that life is a principle or force that is considered to underlie the distinctive quality of animate beings. Being animate is now made a requirement for life.
Both the Soviet Union and the United States had built, during the cold war, what at the time were considered super computers that could make split second decisions on whether to launch missiles against countries which had launched missiles against them and both systems proved to be flawed. This proved that it is not so easy to teach a machine how to be able to plan for every contingency. We have advanced quite a bit from those days. Now many of us have more powerful computers on our desks then those super computers of old. At some point we are going to be able to communicate with our computers the same way we communicate with another human. When this happens, what will we have? If we can actually get an intelligent conversation out of our computer, then at least, some people may begin to wonder what we have created. Imagine that someday you want to remove a part from the computer for use somewhere else and the computer complains. Will you feel that maybe the computer is becoming self-aware?
Now here is a question that really shakes things up. If we are able someday to download the contents of a human brain into a machine, will that machine become self aware, in other words, will it be alive? Just think of it, a machine that acts just like you. This may be much more far fetched, but what if we could download the contents of an intelligent machine into a human brain, would that person cease to be human and living? We would probably still have to consider him alive since the organic functions were still operating. I guess as time goes by we are getting closer and closer to machine life and someday someone will have to decide if machine life is really life at all.