Will Artificial Intelligence Determine the End of Humanity?

“I don’t see that human intelligence is something that people can never understand.”

~ John McCarthy (Father of Artificial Intelligence), March 1989

With the gradual and inevitable integration of artificial intelligence, human civilization is undergoing unprecedented changes. The question of whether we are witnessing the final phase of genuine humanity has become a focal point for many people. How can impoverished countries, the silent victims of technological tools wielded by dominant nations to fulfill their own needs and expand their power, confront this crisis? Human civilization, along with everything it encompasses, currently faces three major challenges, the response to which will determine its future survival.

The first and foremost challenge is the environmental crisis, a problem we are well aware of and comprehend its adverse consequences. Though discussions on various levels are taking place worldwide, there is a lack of meaningful national, regional, and global engagement. Environmentalists have been reduced to mere critics, while those in positions of power to enforce environmental laws and regulations often prioritize their narrow interests. Most individuals fail to envision taking positive steps and instead indulge in a blame game.

The second challenge lies in the potential consequences of nuclear weapons at a continental scale. This is not an issue to be taken lightly. If nuclear weapons, possessed by any nation, were to fall into the hands of hostile forces operating within or outside that nation, the resulting devastation would be catastrophic. Recent events such as the Cuban Missile Crisis and Israel’s intrusion into an Iranian-maintained nuclear power plant have underscored the dangers associated with this situation. Moreover, the behavior of extremist terrorist organizations within the region of South Asia, home to nuclear-armed rivals Pakistan and India, further exemplifies the gravity of the matter.

Despite the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons being in force since 1970, its core objectives have yet to be fully realized. Presently, nine countries officially acknowledge possessing nuclear weapons, maintaining around 12,700 of them, with 9,400 deployed at active military bases. While this marks a significant reduction compared to the 70,000 nuclear weapons held during the Cold War, the risk of gradual proliferation persists as state conflicts grow increasingly complex. Publicly available data suggests that a single nuclear weapon detonation in New York City could cause the immediate deaths of approximately 583,160 people. This signifies the immense destructive potential of nuclear weapons, capable of annihilating the world’s population of over eight billion within a very short span. Unfortunately, none of the nuclear-weapon states have signed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which the United Nations adopted in 2021. This demonstrates that while responsible parties understand the challenge, the solutions are delayed due to power struggles among them.

The third challenge pertains to the irreversible development of artificial intelligence—an enigma that we partly understand yet dangerously assumes we comprehend fully. While many emphasize the benefits of AI’s advancement, there is reluctance to address the biases and prejudices gradually emerging within human civilization. AI’s primary products include social media networks that still remain under personal control and the everyday use of Google or other companies’ navigation systems. Additionally, instead of fingerprint scans or supervisor oversight, many introduced alternatives rely on artificial intelligence. ActivTrak informs managers if employees are spending excessive time on social media, Hubstaff captures snapshots of employees’ computer screens every five minutes, software like Teramind or Time Doctor monitors every online action, and InterGuard provides employers with minute-by-minute analysis of data, including browsing history. Numerous such software solutions have been introduced by various companies and individuals. While these advancements have yielded positive outcomes, they remain within the realm of human control, highlighting their potential benefits.

However, the year 2023 will be a significant turning point in artificial intelligence, demonstrating that machines can operate independently, solving problems posed by other machines. A relentless and mindless force, machines are seizing control over human thoughts, desires, and even entire civilizations. The role of biological individuals is gradually and irreversibly being overtaken by machines. This resembles Caesar crossing the Rubicon—a point of no return. The issue lies not in specific products like Google Bard, ChatGPT, Microsoft BinChat, Jasper, Chatsonic, or YouChat, but in the overarching technological phenomenon they represent. Uncontrolled artificial intelligence is becoming the ruler, with unimaginable consequences. It is upending human civilization as we know it and dissolving man-made structures. In short, it marks the beginning of the end of humanity as we currently understand it.

The day is approaching when a highly efficient robot armed with vast amounts of data will replace your child’s teacher. We are witnessing moments when robots compose songs and novels with greater intricacy than artists and writers themselves. Legal contracts are being drafted more accurately and effortlessly by robots compared to human lawyers. Our fundamental identities, once defined by our mother tongue (identical language), are diminishing. Artificial intelligence is assuming control over everything that surrounds us. Instead of the utopia we once dreamed of, where technology would bring the world closer together, we are facing a dystopia rooted in mechanical contentment.

In a world where the power struggle between nations prevents the establishment of common agreements for nuclear weapon management, thereby endangering the world, and where discussions on environmental destruction often result in empty rhetoric, can we overcome the challenges presented by artificial intelligence? The consequences go beyond job losses and a widening wealth gap; society is being pushed towards unforeseen social upheavals, and the very limits of human existence are being challenged. The effectiveness of new laws, regulations, and the notion of granting rights to robots instead of humans remains uncertain. Back in 1882, Friedrich Nietzsche, a German philosopher, spoke of the death of God. In 2023, artificial intelligence is determining the death of Homo sapiens sapiens —both in terms of our biological existence and the confines of our intelligence. So, is this not the end of humanity?”

Nilantha Ilangamuwa is a Sri Lankan born author. He was the-editor of Sri Lanka Guardian, an online daily newspaper. He was also the editor of the Torture: Asian and Global Perspectives, bi-monthly print magazine, co-published by the Danish Institute Against Torture ( DIGNITY) based in Copenhagen, Denmark.