Artificial intelligence (AI) will one day keep human beings around in the same way we keep plants, a scientist has claimed.
James Lovelock, the veteran environmentalist best known to the wider public for his influential Gaia theory, says that while Artificial Intelligence will inevitably become the dominant form of life on Earth, AIs will want to keep us around “like we keep plants in gardens.”
In his latest book Novacene, Lovelock predicts that the thinking machines of the future “will have designed and built themselves from the artificial intelligence systems we have already constructed".
These self-replicating artificial intelligences will quickly evolve until they become "thousands, then millions of times more intelligent than us,” he adds.
But he says that’s nothing to be afraid of, pointing out that computers – like humans – are threatened by climate change – so keeping the planet habitable will be as important to them as it is to us: “by remarkable chance, it happens that the upper temperature for both organic and electronic life on the ocean planet Earth are almost identical and close to 50ºC”.
The Novacene, Lovelock says, represents the next geologic age of the Earth’s history.
As the Holocene era, during which mankind evolved, gave way to what scientists are calling the Anthropocene – where humans began to materially change the Earth’s climate and surface – so the Novacene marks the beginning of the ‘next kingdom of life’ with AI shaping the planet’s future.
The Anthropocene is generally considered to have started in 1950, but if Lovelock is correct it’s the shortest geologic age ever. He dates the beginning of the Novacene from October 2015, when the AlphaGo computer program first beat a human master at the fiercely complex strategy game Go.
He’s dismissive of people like Elon Musk, who believes that AI represents a threat to humanity, and propose we enhance ourselves with bionic implants to even up the playing field.
He says he’s optimistic about the future of AI, because “the optimistic version is more efficient.”
He’s dismissive, too, of Musk’s plan to colonise Mars, telling New Scientist : “I know a fair amount about Mars. I don’t think we’ll start colonies on Mars. I cannot think of a much more inhospitable place.
“I think Elon Musk is a very clever man, he must be, (otherwise) he wouldn’t be so rich. But to want to go and live on Mars is just about as crazy as you could be. He must hate people even more than I do.”
He cheekily adds that it would be better all round if Musk “crashed on impact” when he got to the Red Planet.
Lovelock, now 101 years old, once held a baby Stephen Hawking in his arms.
Unlike Hawking, who said “ the human race has no future if it doesn’t go to space", Lovelock firmly believes that mankind’s focus for the immediate future should be on Earth.
New beings will emerge from existing artificial intelligence systems, he says, and we will work in partnership with them.
It is crucial, Lovelock believes, that the intelligent life on this planet, which could well be the only intelligent life anywhere, needs to survive and prosper.
We are at present, he says, the only beings capable of understanding the cosmos.
And one day Lovelock says, the artificial intelligences we create could spread out across the entire Universe.
Presumably with us in tow, just to keep them company.
James Lovelock's book Novacene: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence is published by Penguin.