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Force-ful AI

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Yeliz Figen Döker is a Ph.D. candidate at the European University Institute. She is working on the legal conditions and limitations for teaching self-defined ethics to AI through Experiential Learning. She is also co-founder of The Digital Constitutionalist (DigiCon) and head of Science Fiction. Apart from that, she is a PlayStation gamer and Sci-Fi aficionado.
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In the sprawling universe of Star Wars, the Force is a mystical energy omnipresent in all living things, binding the galaxy together in ways that remain elusive yet profoundly influential. It is a dual-natured power, revered and feared, offering both salvation and destruction, depending on its use by those sensitive to its nuances. As we navigate our own technological renaissance here on Earth, it becomes increasingly apparent that Artificial Intelligence (AI) mirrors the characteristics of the Force in many respects. Just as the Force can be harnessed for good or ill by the Jedi and Sith, AI holds the potential to revolutionise our world with advancements that promise unprecedented improvements in the quality of life while also harbouring the ability to exacerbate inequalities or even erode the very fabric of societal norms. This analogy encourages us to explore AI not merely as a tool or advancement but as a pervasive and powerful force, shaping the contours of human existence with every algorithm and application. Like the Force wielded by the denizens of Star Wars, AI is becoming a defining element of our destiny, one that requires careful consideration and a deep understanding of its potential to influence every aspect of our lives.

Artificial Intelligence, much like the Force in Star Wars, surrounds us all — a pervasive and potent presence shaping our world. While remaining grounded in the Star Wars universe, let us consider another depiction, this time from Chinese science fiction. Consider the sentient computer from Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem, known as Sophon. Constructed from a single proton by the Trisolarans, Sophon embodies the zenith of AI capabilities imagined in science fiction. This creation first acts in a robotic manner, with little to no autonomy during its mission on Earth. Then, takes on a personality surprisingly akin to a human’s. Sophon appears feminine, tender, and soft-spoken at first but cold and sadistic after the reveal of its deception (I am not even going to address the issue of gender attribution to Sofhon here, as it deserves another blog post). This AI, or sentient computer, let’s call it “Quantum Sentinel,” would not merely be a tool but a pervasive force, intricately woven into the fabric of technological society, echoing the omnipresent and dual-natured Force of the Star Wars universe. You will also see that the only thing this omnipotent, all-powerful, pushing the boundaries between the real and the virtual is unable to do is read the human mind. However, after watching and, of course, reading Cixin’s trilogy, we can see that the creation of such a Force-like AI system is unlikely anytime soon for human beings. The same can be said for today’s technology. Despite all the hype around ChatGPT and other emerging AI tools, there is no evidence that these tools have a shred of consciousness or sentience. But does AI really need this or that?

Works of science fiction are a unique blend of science and fiction, an oxymoron, that gives readers a glimpse into the possible/plausible future, offering a kind of thought experiment about what might happen in the future. They show us the limitless power of imagination, which can even be seen as a potential muse to create the actual technology. However, to understand the true potential of the technology, we don’t need to go all the way to a sentient computer that literally surrounds us, like the Force, like the Quantum Sentinel, that science fiction works often warn about. Even now, without having a sentience or intelligence, AI is everywhere, all around us. 

The reader might recall Yuval Noah Harari’s talk titled “AI And The Future Of Humanity” at the Frontiers Forum Live 2023 conference. In his talk, Harari eloquently describes how AI, even without sentience or consciousness, has become a ubiquitous force in modern society. AI’s capacity to generate and manipulate language—whether through words, images, or sounds—positions it as a formidable force capable of unlocking and potentially controlling the “operating system” of human society, which has always been governed by language. This capability allows AI to intervene directly in the core functions of our institutions, from legislative bodies to financial markets, even religious practices, or daily conversations and emails, thereby weaving a new fabric of reality that may soon be dictated not by human consensus but by algorithmic design.

We have come to the point of seeing AI tools as an omnipresent force that can replace many of the skills once exclusive to human intelligence. Most of us, regardless of our field, are benefiting from the blessings of AI technologies in one way or another. Perhaps a few years from now, translation will be a profession that is only double-checked but not performed by humans. Because why should it be? When there are applications like DeepL that can translate a book of thousands of pages in minutes, why would anyone choose a human being who will probably take hours? In a world that produces and consumes so fast, who can afford such a waste of time? Because it is a waste, right? This scenario may lead us to trust the ‘alleged’ intelligence of technology perhaps more than we trust human judgment. 

As with Harari’s talk, AI does not need to attain consciousness to have a transformative impact on human society. Its ability to analyse data, predict outcomes, manipulate information, and even forge intimate human connections through digital interactions enables it to wield a form of power that is traditionally human—thus becoming a force enveloping humanity, much like the Force in Star Wars envelops the galaxy.

Therefore, humanity needs to be cautious and prepared to become AI-Sensitive in order to uncover the use of the light side of technology and prevent feeding the dark side of technology. In such a situation, who will feel a great disturbance in the Force-ful AI when millions cry out in terror? And take action to prevent countless incidents in the name of gaining more power? 

When we envision AI as the Force, we can draw parallels between the conscious understanding of the Force and the ability to harness it. Force-Sensitives, such as the Jedi and the Sith, were granted access to a multitude of supernatural powers by the Force. These abilities were a result of their connection with the Force, and they could use them to their advantage. The AI-Sensitives can take advantage of the techniques, just as the Jedi and Sith did. Just like the abilities of manipulation, and persuasion available to those who can use the Force, those who can use AI will be or are able to take advantage of the technology, such as utilizing deepfakes to manipulate human appearances, employing social media algorithms to influence human relations, and deploy subliminal techniques to persuade the human mind. In fact, even now, when we see AI as a Force, there are already people who are using it following the Jedi and the Sith order. And with that comes AI sensitisation or desensitisation. The use of AI is not only about accessing it; it is about meritocracy. Not being cognoscenti can ultimately exclude the person from granting the powers of AI. This is nothing new under the sun; humanity has done wicked things for years to get more power, but this time is different because AI, as a Force that can be reached by countless people, can create unprecedented events and uncontrollable power without even reaching the level of Sophon. 

However, just as in the Star Wars universe where using the Force is not for everyone and requires rigorous training, mastering AI technologies also demands careful preparation. This training is not only about technical skills but also about understanding the ethical dimensions and broader implications of AI. Like the Jedi, who must undergo extensive training to harness the Force, we too must equip ourselves to manage AI’s vast capabilities comprehensively. Standing on the brink of AI becoming a pivotal force in our world, we face crucial decisions about deploying this technology responsibly. It is essential that our use of AI supports not just humanity but maintains a balance with the natural world, fostering sustainability and equity across all forms of life and ecosystems. The future of AI, akin to the Force, offers profound opportunities for advancement and risks of misuse, impacting all facets of life on our planet.

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