Much is written and spoken about artificial intelligence, AI for short, and opinions are divided. Influenced by the discussion that has been going on for centuries as to whether progress is always right or whether the machines and technology will one day overpower us, the positions towards AIs are similarly extreme. But what exactly is AI? Where does it begin? What is the difference between natural intelligence, human intelligence, and artificial intelligence? And what is knowledge anyway?

And there is the first problem: there is no general definition valid for all aspects. Wikipedia points out that intelligence is “in psychology a collective term for the cognitive performance of the human being.” And so, depending on the focus of the study, there are different models of the definition of intelligence. One can say that knowledge is responsible for how much benefit, how many results can one obtain from information. To illustrate this, we will take a numerical example, as this can be described so clearly:

2 + 2

While one – quite correctly – can say that here we have two plus two, and could add that the two is a number, the next one has already called “4!” and another one claims that it is 2 x 2. Everyone has made a correct statement for himself; everyone has applied knowledge. But to come from this equation to the root calculation is already a more significant step. And all these more or less rational conclusions are worth nothing if one has just suffered shipwreck and clings to a plank, 2000km away from the next shore. So whether an individual is intelligent or not depends not only on his performance but also on whether the kind of intelligence that the individual possesses also produces the necessary results in the environment in which he finds himself.

The intelligence models that are acknowledged in psychology are primarily intended to make intelligence measurable to make comparisons, but also to determine what it is that gives rise to intelligence. But in general we humans have a good feeling, or rather a good understanding of what is intelligent and what is not. Since the time of Enlightenment, there has been a widespread belief that the human body is a machine and as such can be optimized. At the latest during the Industrial Revolution, things became conceivable such as implants, artificial joints, artificial lenses and the like. So while on one side there is the human being, on the other there is the idea of a cyborg, an artificially produced human being consisting entirely of artificial and machine-made parts. It even looks like a person, just – on a physical level – optimized. And indeed, the transition between a person full of implants, artificial joints, a bypass and the like to the cyborg is seamless. But is a human brain today already replaceable by an artificial brain?

The brain processes the data received via the sensory organs. Information processing – so does a computer. And indeed, representatives of the more recent meditation movement Mindfulness also hold the position that the brain functions similarly to a laptop whose processes is reprogrammed through meditation. But in the brain, many processes always run side by side, and these processes are distributed far over the entire brain. In the computer, on the other hand, the operations are processed one after the other. So is a laptop already a representative of the AI? No, because a computer imitates intelligent behavior using simple algorithms, but cannot go beyond the programmed steps. And even if the network does not have any difficulties with the root calculus and can process data quickly, it is impossible for it to plan actions or understand language.

However, researchers are now trying to recreate various aspects of how the brain works, for example by developing artificial neural networks. These are programs that are not programmed but trained using examples; these networks can learn and deal with incomplete information. The so-called strong AI, however, aims to create an intelligence that can develop consciousness and morality, which also in its developmental stages shows the evolution of thinking that human thinking shows. This AI will not have feelings, but it may learn to simulate love, hate, fear or joy. It is probably the most significant difference between the brain and the computer: the brain does not function by itself; it is only functional in the context of a body, its emotions, and senses.

The Chinese researchers Feng Liu, Yong Shi, and Ying Liu conducted intelligence tests with AIs in the summer of 2017. The examined AIs were publicly accessible apps like Siri from Apple or Google. Google scored best, with an intelligence quotient of 47.28. A six-year-old child has an average quotient of 55.5, so Google’s AI can be compared with the intelligence of an average six-year-old. However, it cannot be said that Google is like a six-year-old because it does not have the feelings and consciousness that the child has.

But what if we could produce brains artificially? The film after the manga Ghost in the Shell (1995 as Anime, 2017 as real film version) shows the possibilities: The brain with corresponding consciousness of a human being , transplanted into an utterly android body. In the course of the plot, the main criticism is about how the experiments were carried out to make such a transplant. For even if the thought of an artificial body may seem deterrent, there are indeed people who would like to replace their own body, which is plagued with pain or paralyzed by illness or accidents, with a mechanical body. And of course there would then also be the possibility to do investigations that are not feasible today: we could send human consciousness to Mars, to Pluto, oh, to the next galaxy. Without having to worry about life expectancy and life support. But artificial brains are not yet developed, transplants of human brains are not feasible, and machines still depend on social programming.

So machines and computers will not rule the world, as Matrix (1999), Terminator (1984) and other movies suggest. But what developments are at all conceivable? In the television series Black Mirror, a British series by Charlie Brooker, which is now bought and financed by Netflix, the viewer can imagine in episodes of 40 to 90 minutes how everyday life will change in the near or distant future. Although it is a series, the individual events have no connection whatsoever, only a common theme: the effects of technology and media on society. One can say that – as with all SciFi works, with any utopia or dystopia – it is also about the search for an identity. Who are we, humans? What do we do here and where should our way lead? Black Mirror shows in an episode what life could look like in a dystopian future when everyone earns their credit on bicycle ergometers. Every consumer good – toothpaste, fresh towel, food, even skipping advertising on TV – is deducted from the loan. All people wear the same sports suit, live in small rooms whose walls are a single screen, and these screens play programs. There is no window, no plant and not even a fly.

Another episode deals with what is discovered about us in social networks and on the Internet. A woman named Martha learns that she is pregnant shortly after she has lost her partner in a car accident. She uses a service that collects any information her partner shared in online networks and can create an artificial personality with which it is possible to communicate as if it were the original human being. First, she delivers in writing, then through an app, it becomes possible to imitate the voice of her partner, and she also communicates verbally. When an AI becomes acquirable with the body of the deceased partner, Martha buys this AI and tries to escape her grief.

In an episode from the third season, two women are found at different times. In the course of the event, it turns out that they meet virtually in a simulated world where people are programmed into after their death and which they are allowed to visit for a certain period per week before their end.

Not only series but also movies deal with the prospects for the future. Surrogates (2009) is a film starring Bruce Willis, which shows how in the future people hardly ever leave their bed or couch, and indeed not their apartment. All tasks such as work, shopping, etc. are performed by humanoid robots. These are young, improved replicas of their human originals, and they are also used to get to know other people. Their robots, the so-called surrogates also represent them. Direct human contact is not possible because robots, the avatars always do everything. The movie Avatar (2009) by James Cameron with Sigourney Weaver reveals the potential these avatars could have: on the one hand, you could allow paralyzed people to move. On the other hand, it would be possible to adapt the avatars to the wishes, ideas or prejudices of the people who are supposed to interact with this avatar. For example, you could imagine robots going out on the streets instead of the real policemen, and depending on the tasks you have to accomplish; you could use an Avatar woman or man, you could choose any skin color, etc.

The movie RoboCop (1987, remade 2014) is not far away from this idea, here it is a cyborg of a former police officer, whose brain, face and other body parts are connected with machine-made body parts. A machine policeman, a RoboCop, is created.

So what makes us human? In the movie Blade Runner (1982) a test is carried out to distinguish the replicants from the humans. Kimbra sings in her song Human “I confess I’ve been messed up in denial; This is what it means to be human.” Because we make mistakes, we are recognizable as human beings – because mistakes are part of our evolution. Our way of learning is based on the mistakes we have made, and the mistakes in evolution have made new species, new life possible. Björk sang “All is full of love” in 1999, while in the video two robots made love. One could also imagine using an avatar to operate mobile phones and computers, to post social media and to post comments, while we go out in our everyday life, leave our black screens and experience reality. Or, as Deichkind sang in Like mich is Arsch („Like my ass”) 2015: “Shut up, pull the plug, out into the world.”


This article was translated by the Courtesy of PonderingTime Fan Heidrun Klemmer. The Editors Staff is thanking you Heidrun!