1 | 数字革命
2 | 人工智能
3 | 无法抗拒的诱惑
4 | 伟大的冒险
—— 演讲英文版原文 ——
I want to take a brief journey into the unknowable future. My starting point is the profound change that has happened in our lifetimes and has affected the majority of adults on this planet, and children too. I’m talking, of course, about the digital revolution. We are still in its early stages. Perhaps history has just concluded chapter one. The next chapters will have even greater consequences for how we understand our own humanity, and therefore it will have consequences for our literature and for all our arts. Those new chapters are being written now.
My generation, born in the mid twentieth century, grew up in an analogue world. We posted letters, we talked to each other from public phone boxes, (the reception was poor) and for information about the world we reached for encyclopaedias from off the shelves. We got our news a day late. Then we had to make an awkward transition to the digital universe and we often turned to our children and then our grandchildren for help with certain digital tasks.
For those born in the 1980s and since, who came of age when the internet was already a fact of life, the powerful computers that sit in their pockets are not merely useful devices – they have become an extension of the self. The internet has come to resemble a vast mind which envelops and influences consciousness itself. We have learned to move around cyberspace as we might move around in our own thoughts. We connect with friends as well as the wider world of information with the speed of thought. The internet has become our memory store, the locus of aspiration, knowledge, relationships, dreaming and yearning. For most of us, from student to president, work, even life, is impossible without the internet. In its best and worst aspects, it encompasses human nature. It contains us. When we lose our connection to the internet for some technical reason, we feel isolated, bereft. This strange sensation is thoroughly modern. It represents a shift in human consciousness.
But it’s only the beginning. The past ten years have seen a revolution in computer science. The age of artificial intelligence is now upon us. Twenty five years ago, a computer beat a grandmaster at chess. It was programmed with thousands of chess games. At every move, it rehearsed every possibility. But last year, a computer was given only the rules of the game and told to win. Nothing else.When it played, it made extraordinary and successfulmoves that no human had ever thought of, like an early sacrifice of the queen. A machine re-imagined the human game. Machine-learning had arrived at its first blossoming. Using algorithms, artificial intelligence is already advising us which books or movies to buy on-line, based on our previous choices.It plans the routes of commercial aircraft. It will play its part in the design of autonomous vehicles.
Where might this lead us? There is a dream that has haunted many different cultures for centuries. It is a dream of making an artificial version of ourselves. Just as the Christian god was once supposed to have made the first man out of clay, so we confront now the possibility of becoming like gods ourselves by making our own first artificial human. Nearly a thousand years ago there were in the churches and great cathedrals of Europe, statues that wept on certain special days at the errors and sins of mankind. People stood amazed at this wonder - a painted stone figure coming to life! Now we know - concealed inside the statue was a tank of water with a goldfish. As it swam about, it pushed water along a hidden tube to the figure’s eyes.
In the early nineteenth century a novel appeared that became a foundational text. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein tells the story of a scientist of that name who builds a man which he brings to life with electricity. Frankenstein’s creature turns out to be a murderer. The tale has become a powerful metaphor for how the creations of science can turn against us.
We ourselves have an innate tendency to project life onto inanimate things. A small baby will smile at the crudest drawing of a face. Who has not wanted to kick the car when it won’t start? As a philosopher said to me once, we are capable of forming an emotional relationship with a fridge. But now we see in our future the possibility of making plausible, intelligent humanoids of the sort that our fiction and movies have been playing with for many years. Our new cousins might first be playmates for children – already there are some simple versions on the market. Robots can help look after elderly people, as is already happening in Japan, where the population is ageing fast. Technology has produced life-like skin, eyes, and hair; there are now robots who can dance and – not so easy as it seems to us – even catch a ball. It is much harder to devise software that can understand and use language without mistakes. Hardest of all is creating what’s known as general intelligence. But it will happen. The only question is when.
It might not be as soon as many think. Artificial intelligence has taught us just how wondrous the brain is - a one litre, liquid-cooled, three-dimensional biological computer. It containsabout a hundred billion neurons, with an average of seven thousand inputs and outputs for each neuron. The number of connections between the neurons is beyond our imagining. And it all runs on twenty five watts – the power of a dim lightbulb. There is nothing in our current technology that comes anywhere near this degree of miniaturisation, and all achieved without overheating. We don’t even yet have an efficient way of storing electricity. The clumsy robots you see on the internet are often attached to a power line. Either that, or they can’t last very long on their feet without recharging.
And it is easy to forget - chess is not the same as life. Chess is a closed system. There’s no doubt about the history or present state of the game. Nor is there any doubt about the end of the game. Life, on the other hand, is an open system – unpredictable at every level. Language too is an open system. To understand a sentence we have to bring prior knowledge of the outside world. Context is everything when it comes to understanding words.
But still, it will come, artificial intelligence in laptops, desktops and mainframe computers – and they will help in the design of advanced artificial humans – because we can’t resist the project, ourancient dream, even though it might not have much scientific value to make a machine in our own image. Though it could be said that a simple, isolated laptop, a computer without a body that resembles ours, can never be remotely like us or understand us, nor we understand them.
As the hardware and software advance, we will face an old question. What would it mean, to have this human shape in front of you with a sympathetic expression, a warm voice, an intelligent, well-informed manner and to know that this creature was manufactured in a factory not far from Beijing? Might your new friend actually be conscious like you? Or is he simply designed to give that impression? Does he have a self, can he feel sorrow and joy, nostalgia and anticipation?There’s a crude way of dealing with this question: to adapt the notion of the great computer scientist, Alan Turing, who was thinking hard about machine intelligence in the 1930s: if you can’t even tell whether a machine is conscious or not, you might as well assume that it is. After all, we all have to assume consciousness in each other. We can never have a final proof. There’s another way of dealing with the problem of machine consciousness – but I’ll keep that back until the very end.
Ultimately, the human brain, on which the mind depends, is made of matter. Matter is what your brain and the ‘brain’ of an artificial human will both share. Theoretical physicists have been telling us for almost a hundred years that matter is far stranger than common sense suggests. When we reach the point at which we accept that there is no special status or privilege in having a biological as opposed to an inorganic brain, then immediately we will confront a host of interesting problems. Should we grant the rights and responsibilities of a citizen to an artificial human? Will it be wrong to buy or own such a being, as people used to buy and own slaves? Will it be murder if we destroy such a being? Will they become cleverer than us, and take our jobs? Already, in our factories, clever but mindless machines are replacing workers. Doctors and lawyers could be next. Then the ultimate question: will artificial humans dominate us, or even replace us?
These are questions that science fiction has been dealing with for many years. Now, at last, the questions need answering. The future has arrived. What kind of moral principles might we grant to a computer? The manufacturers of autonomous, self-driving vehicles are already confronting this. What are the loyalties of your new car? A child runs out into the road, right into your path. You could save its life if you swerved and crashed head-on into a lorry coming towards you. This choice must be made in a fraction of a second. Humans, with their slow-moving brains, are not very good at thinking this through quickly. Your new autonomous car might be programmed to care for your life above all other’s. Or it might be ready, in the name of altruism and the social good, to sacrifice you. This is a moral choice we will have to make in the design of the automobile software.
For many of us, there comes a point in childhood when we become aware of a very difficult idea: Of the billions who live on this planet, every single individual has a mental life that is just as vivid and real and self-evident as your own. Perhaps in childhood this is the moment when morality begins, when you start to understand that everyone else is as real to themselves as you are to yourself. You must treat others as you would wish to be treated and try to understand what it is to be someone other than yourself.
This notion brings me to another invention, an older one that runs without batteries and is technically simple but morally and aesthetically highly complex and, at its best, extremely beautiful. I’m thinking of the novel in all its forms. It remains our best means, our best device for entering the minds of other people, and measuring the relation of minds to each other, and to the society in which they live. The novelist is a voyager on an ocean of other minds. Cinema is immediately accessible and compelling, but it has not driven the novel into extinction as many once predicted. Only the novel can give us the flow of thought and feeling within the privacy of selfhood, that sense of seeing the world through the eyes of others.
If we are poised, perhaps in this century, to create new kinds of conscious beings whose minds might begin to be diverge from our own, the novel will be one of our best means of understanding them. I’ve given my life to this form and I’m certain that it can enter the mind of any man, woman or child on this planet. It can therefore enter the mind of a humanoid robot. The novel can attempt to rehearse our future subjectivity, including the subjectivity of those whose minds we will invent. As we debate what kinds of moral systems we want to install in our creations, we will inevitably have to confront and define who and what we are, what we want. And when,or if,an artificial human ever writes the first original and meaningful novel, we will have the opportunity to see ourselves through the eyes of others who we ourselves created. This will be final confirmationthat a new kind of conscious being is among us. A great adventure, benign or horrific, will begin.