In my last post, I wrote a little bit about the concept of personal identity in terms of what some philosophers have emphasized and my take on it. I wrote that post in response to an interesting blog post written by James DiGiovanna over at A Philosopher’s Take. James has written another post related to the possible consequences of integrating artificial intelligence into our societal framework, but rather than discussing personal identity as it relates to artificial intelligence, he discussed how the advancements made in machine learning and so forth are leading to the future prospects of effective companion AI, or what he referred to as programmable friends. The main point he raised in that post was the fact that programmable friends would likely have a very different relationship dynamic with us compared with our traditional (human) friends. James also spoke about companion AI in terms of their also being laborers (as well as being friends) but for the purposes of this post I won’t discuss these laborer aspects of future companion AI (even if the labor aspect is what drives us to make companion AI in the first place). I’ll be limiting my comments here to the friendship or social dynamic aspects only. So what aspects about programmable AI should we start thinking about?
Well for one, we don’t currently have the ability to simply reprogram a friend to be exactly as we want them to be, in order to avoid conflicts entirely, to share every interest we have, etc., but rather there is a bit of a give-and-take relationship dynamic that we’re used to dealing with. We learn new ways of behaving and looking at the world and even new ways of looking at ourselves when we have friendships with people that differ from us in certain ways. Much of the expansion and beneficial evolution of our perspectives are the result of certain conflicts that arise between ourselves and our friends, where different viewpoints can clash against one another, often forcing a person to reevaluate their own position based on the value they place on the viewpoints of their friends. If we could simply reprogram our friends, as in the case with some future AI companions, what would this do to our moral, psychological and intellectual growth? There would be some positive effects I’m sure (from having less conflict in some cases and thus an increase in short term happiness), but we’d definitely be missing out on a host of interpersonal benefits that we gain from having the types of friendships that we’re used to having (and thus we’d likely have less overall happiness as a result).
We can see where evolution ties in to all this, whereby we have evolved as a social species to interact with others that are more or less like us, and so when we envision these possible future AI friendships, it should become obvious why certain problems would be inevitable largely because of the incompatibility with our evolved social dynamic. To be sure, some of these problems could be mitigated by accounting for them in the initial design of the companion AI. In general, this could be done by making the AI more like humans in the first place and this could be something advertised as some kind of beneficial AI “social software package” so people looking to get companion AI would be inclined to get this version even if they had the choice to go for the entirely reprogrammable version.
Some features of a “social software package” could be things like a limit on the number of ways the AI could be reprogrammed such that only very serious conflicts could be avoided through reprogramming, but without the ability to avoid all conflicts. It could be such that the AI are able to have a weight on certain opinions, just as we do, and to be more assertive with regard to certain propositions and so forth. Once the AI has learned its human counterpart’s personality, values, opinions, etc., it could also be programmed with the ability to intentionally challenge that human by offering different points of view and by its using the Socratic method (at least from time to time). If people realized that they could possibly gain wisdom, knowledge, tolerance, and various social aptitudes from their companion AI, I would think that would be a marked selling point.
Another factor that I think will likely play a role in mitigating the possible social dynamic clash between companion AI (that are programmable) and humans is the fact that humans are also likely to become more and more integrated with AI technology generally. That is, as humans are continuing to make advancements in AI technology, we are also likely to integrate a lot of that technology into ourselves, to make humans more or less into cyborgs a.k.a. cybernetic organisms. If we see the path we’re on already with all the smart phones, apps, and other gadgets and computer systems that have started to become extensions of ourselves, we can see that the next obvious step (which I’ve mentioned elsewhere, here and here) is to remove the external peripherals so that they are directly accessible via our consciousness with no need of interfacing with external hardware and so forth. If we can access “the cloud” with our minds (say, via bluetooth or the like), then the apps and all the fancy features can become a part of our minds, adding to the ways that we will be able to think, providing an internet worth of knowledge at our cognitive disposal, etc. I could see this technology eventually allowing us to change our senses and perceptions, including an ability to add virtual objects that are amalgamated with the rest of the external reality that we perceive (such as adding virtual friends that we see and interact with that aren’t physically present outside of our minds even though they appear to be).
So if we start to integrate these kinds of technologies into ourselves as we are also creating companion AI, then we may also end up with the ability to reprogram ourselves alongside those programmable companion AI. In effect, our own qualitatively human social dynamic may start to change markedly and become more and more compatible with that of the future AI. The way I think this will most likely play out is that we will try to make AI more like us as we try to make us more like AI, where we co-evolve with one another, trying to share advantages with one another and eventually becoming indistinguishable from one another. Along this journey however we will also become very different from the way we are now, and after enough time passes, we’ll likely change so much that we’d be unrecognizable to people living today. My hope is that as we use AI to also improve our intelligence and increase our knowledge of the world generally, we will also continue to improve on our knowledge of what makes us happiest (as social creatures or otherwise) and thus how to live the best and most morally fruitful lives that we can. This will include improving our knowledge of social dynamics and the ways that we can maximize all the interpersonal benefits therein. Artificial intelligence may help us to accomplish this however paradoxical or counter-intuitive that may seem to us now.