We live not only in a time of social and technological transition, but also of biological, evolutionary, and environmental transition. It is also a time of great and growing upheaval--of societies, species, and the planet itself.

Artificial intelligence has already permeated many aspects of daily life and will continue to alter the affairs of men and women, institutions, and warfare, for better or worse, beyond the lifetime of anyone reading these words.

If all humans shared a universal ethical standard, it would be reasonable to assume that cognitive computers and sensient robots, would inherit--whether by design or acquisition--human ethical behavior. Indeed, some philosophers have mused that a computer reproducing a human brain in exact detail would automatically acquire human ethical sensibilities. However, ethical standards are far from universal, as history has proved repeatedly.

One often reads that all humans share a common intrinsic ethical sensibility. The problem is that there is no common definition or expression of what constitutes ethics or morality. Human history is a never-ending saga of war inspired by conflicting ethical standards and belief systems.

Will subjective "ethical programming," governmental regulation, and liability laws be enough to quell thinking machine chaos? If history has taught us anything, such measures will prove to be ineffectual in preventing a new era of AI-related litigation, wartime atrocities, infrastructure failures, and criminal and terrorist acts. Still, the measures will be as necessary to the maintenance of the semblance of civilization as nuclear weapons treaties and the Geneva Convention.

Artificial intelligence has already permeated many aspects of daily life and will continue to alter the affairs of men and women, institutions, and warfare, for better or worse, beyond the lifetime of anyone reading these words.

Of all the traits that contributed to the rise and eventual dominance of humankind, ingenuity was perhaps the most profound. Yet, it is our very rise and dominance that produced the coming clash between civilization and chaos. In the end, our ingenuity may prove to be our demise or our salvation.

As B.F. Skinner observed, "the problem isn't whether machines think; it's whether men do."



The AI Insider Dennis L. Foster is a computer scientist, author, and educator, known for his pioneering work in the development of artificial intelligence (AI) in medicine, education, and robotics.

Copyright © Dennis L. Foster