Ideas about artificial intelligence and how it will impact humanity have been a standard topic for speculation in science fiction for well over a century. In the cinema, exploration of the topic began with Fritz Lang's 1927 Metropolis and continued with Jean Luc Godardís Alphaville in 1965 and an avalanche of Hollywood treatments of the topic as the 20th century wore on, such as 2001 the Space Oddyssey (1968), The Forbin Project (1970), Westworld (1970), The Stepford Wives (1975), Demon Seed (1977), A.I. Artificial Intelligence in 2001 and quickly on to the Terminator series and the two Matrix films. Ex Machina in 2014 brought the technological details right up to date, but what almost all Hollywood treatments of artificial intelligence have in common is the assumption of a conflict, often of truly Biblical proportions, between mankind and machine intelligence which only one of them is destined to survive.
Is such a confrontation inevitable? Is it even a realistic possibility, and if so, how close in time might it be? This is the fascinating territory explored in this debate.
Chaired by Stephanie Hare, the plan was for four prominent thinkers to discuss the question of what artificial intelligence is, whether or not anything worthy of the name exists at the moment and what it may become in the future. Each speaker was to be given an initial three minute slot to put forward their position on a specific question, with a general discussion following.
The session began with Martin Rees (Astronomer Royal and previous President of the Royal Society) who argued that the prospect of advanced AI is exciting and when it arrives may replace may tedius and mundane jobs.
Laura Mersini-Houghton (Cosmologist and Professor of theoretical physics at the University of North Carolina) was to be the second speaker but her three minute introduction was unfortunately lost due to technical difficulties with the link to America after she had been introduced. She managed to return however for the final theme of the general discussion, which she introduced.
Next, Hilary Lawson (Post-realist philosopher) argued that AI is a far away prospect because computer systems can't understand human reality.
Finally Kate Devlin (Computer scientist) argued that we need to discover how to make machines capable of ethical understanding to overcome the criticisms of AI.
The debate that followed was organised into three themes:
What does it mean to be intelligent?
Should we take the claims about AI seriously?
If we can achieve AI will it help or hinder human progress?
This session took place on Zoom on 16th September 2020
RUNNING TIME: 44 minutes 40 sec. approx.