By Samir Shukla
The late afternoon sun shining through the thin, white curtains exposes blemishes strewn about the fabric. The curtains are parted in the middle, filtering the sun and creating swirling shadows on the wooden floor and the nearest wall. The curtain covers the sliding doors leading to the deck of a third-floor condo overlooking a man-made pond. Standing on that deck, on this bright day, I notice many more shadows, on the brick sidewalks, on the water, in the grass.
So many of these shadows are due to human creations – buildings, cars, the utility poles, while others are natural – the shade from a tree, birds flying low, their shadows following them, the clouds. The sun is now angled in a manner to cast long shadows. The twilight shadows.
Human intelligence and ingenuity through the ages has brought us to the shadowy world we live in today. We have always been searchers, restless explorers, and creators. Our constantly tinkering brains have built cities, global communication, and spaceships. Along with everything else in between and on the peripheries. We have recently self-created competition for our continued searching, exploring and creating. A competing intelligence. AI. Artificial Intelligence.
Sure, AI has been around for a while lurking in some technologies. But up to this point it has been mundane. We now have reached a juncture from which there is no going back. This burgeoning AI that we are birthing in new technologies is slowly becoming enmeshed with our daily living. It will become pervasive. This human created intelligence answers questions in conversational manner when queried on our devices. It is learning our habits. This is our own searching going further, as this new beast mines our own works, writings, and news items in our digital realms and shoots them back to us in longform answers. Other applications and surveillance technologies infusing AI, much like science fiction, is becoming fact.
Our shadowy world is becoming further shadowy. The shadows of our past leading up to today have been the result of human intelligence, engineering and building. These shadows are real.
Artificial Intelligence will cast unreal shadows, virtual shadows, infesting itself into the recesses of our minds, the creation competing with its creators’ intelligence.
Humanity’s passages through eons of time has now entered an adventurous new phase. It is inviting and exciting but also scary in unknowable ways. AI is for now following our instructions, but will surely, very quickly begin to one up its creators, question its creators, maybe even spar with its creators.
I am surfing my own memories and challenging my intelligence solving tricky puzzles on my handheld device while finding other intriguing shadows observable from the deck overlooking the pond. The evening is progressing. I feel a bit of gurgling in my stomach. Maybe it is indigestion or just hunger rumbling as dinner approaches.
Here are some of my highly researched and observable scientific axioms. Artificial intelligence will never experience indigestion. It will never feel disabling pain or ecstatic joy. Oh, maybe someday, after much passage of time and its evolution, it may come close, but its descriptive moniker, artificial, will forever mark its existence. It. Is. Artificial. This may seem obvious, but the shaded world of real and artificial will become increasingly indistinguishable.
Our man-made shadows lurk in all environments on this globe. Virtual shadows created by AI may have the potential to remake a more ideal world or grimmer versions may emerge as the demons of the future. What is real and what is not?
That predicament is already here. Our self-created dissonance and political environment has created tribal partitions among us. AI may help soften these divisions or, the much more likely scenario, create bigger chasms and distrust.
Our vigilance while excitedly participating in these incoming winds of change is the discussion of the hour. We can boost our knowledge further with increasing ease or become afraid of our own shadows. Which shadows to follow? Which shadows to believe? The choices will be up to us as we continue our collective passage through time fully engaging with this intelligence that we have created.
I now step back into the room, from the deck of the third-floor condo, through the sliding doors, and close the curtains while the last remnants of sunlight crawls under the horizon.
The shadows of this young new night, real and virtual, are beginning to emerge.