Synergy or Symbiosis?

My Take by Terry Troy

After writing several articles and interviewing several leading scientists on the topic, I am still faced with the same dilemma: Is the relationship between strong AI and humans a matter of synergy or a true symbiosis?

It depends on whom you ask. And that depends on whether they see stronger generative AI programs as having some form of sentience. For the average public, and indeed many business leaders, a misunderstanding of the power of AI has created some dystopian myths, many of which are dispelled by AI scientists.

When it first came out late in 2022, media pundits created horror stories describing new generative AI technology as a Modern Day Prometheus with computers and machines quickly becoming adversarial to humans, the next step in evolution. It wouldn’t be long before we would all be hiding like rats, with red-eyed, machine-created Terminators hunting us down.

What those naysayers forgot to mention, is that we could simply pull the plug, deny energy sources nor give the technology the ability to reproduce. While the technology’s detractors might argue that many science fiction horror stories start innocent enough like that—they are all just that—this story is the purview of science fiction.

The fact is that AI in all its forms, is simply a tool that can be used to the benefit of all mankind. Yes, it is being used by the military, but primarily to keep us technologically ahead of our world adversaries. And there will always be those bad actors who use it to create fakes and mislead.

However, most AI scientists would agree that it will be a long time before AI develops any kind of sentience, beyond what it can access on the internet. While it has the ability to compute on a massive scale, it does not have the ability to experience shame, nor pride, nor can it hate nor love, in the same capacity as even a dog or cat.

As for ethics, forget it. There are plenty of stories of lawyers using ChatGPT to create legal briefs, which they blindly submitted to a court. Trouble is, when the judges’ clerks researched the cases cited in the briefs, they found that ChatGPT had simply made up or hallucinated the cases.

The real power of AI, whether generative or not, is only realized when it is used by a human who can extend a degree of practicality to control the context in which it works. That really makes our relationship with AI as being a synergy—much like a merger between two companies, makes the sum of the two much greater than the power of the two working separately.

But at the same time, AI also allows humans to expand the amount of data they can process and evaluate, making both the technology and the human co-dependent on each other in the solving of a specific problem: symbiosis.

While the latter does suggest at least a degree of life or sentience, we should never lose sight of the fact that AI is simply a tool, a servant that we can use to better humanity. It’s a technology that should be used, not feared.

I am dating myself somewhat here, but I remember back in the early 1980s, when I got my first computer. I was told that the computer would be the end of paper as we know it. So I was a little taken back when my computer came with several tech books as well as four big three-ring binders explaining how to use it.

It is true that the technology we used in the 1980s seems akin to playing with Tinker Toys today. What is even more true is that the technology we are developing today may seem just as simplistic in the very near future.

Our only way forward is to embrace new technology and the challenges of our future. It is coming whether we like it or not.