The New Human-Machine World02-26-2023
Henry Kissinger, Eric Schmidt and Daniel Huttenlocher have an important essay in which they argue that ChatGPT represents the potential of artificial intelligence “to transform the human cognitive process as it has not been shaken up since the invention of printing” and the enlightenment. The enlightenment is the liberation of mankind from the dogma of tradition and religion. It elevated reason over emotion, transparency over authority, and science over opinion. But in the age of artificial intelligence, knowledge becomes again something humanly unknowable—not a province of God but of an inhuman and transhuman intelligence. When AI knows things, we humans will be at the mercy of knowledge systems we cannot understand. We will have to figure out human responses to knowledge and policies that are simply beyond our comprehension–unless, of course, we merge our human brains with our computers. We lack at this point, write Kissinger, Schmidt, and Huttenlocher, the political and ethical leadership to make sense of this new human-machine relationship. They write:
Enlightenment science accumulated certainties; the new AI generates cumulative ambiguities. Enlightenment science evolved by making mysteries explicable, delineating the boundaries of human knowledge and understanding as they moved. The two faculties moved in tandem: Hypothesis was understanding ready to become knowledge; induction was knowledge turning into understanding. In the Age of AI, riddles are solved by processes that remain unknown. This disorienting paradox makes mysteries unmysterious but also unexplainable. Inherently, highly complex AI furthers human knowledge but not human understanding—a phenomenon contrary to almost all of post-Enlightenment modernity. Yet at the same time AI, when coupled with human reason, stands to be a more powerful means of discovery than human reason alone.
The essential difference between the Age of Enlightenment and the Age of AI is thus not technological but cognitive. After the Enlightenment, philosophy accompanied science. Bewildering new data and often counterintuitive conclusions, doubts and insecurities were allayed by comprehensive explanations of the human experience. Generative AI is similarly poised to generate a new form of human consciousness. As yet, however, the opportunity exists in colors for which we have no spectrum and in directions for which we have no compass. No political or philosophical leadership has formed to explain and guide this novel relationship between man and machine, leaving society relatively unmoored.