Making machines that think will be like putting a man on the Moon: The effect will be the exact opposite of what everyone expected.
The Apollo Program did not launch humanity into a Space Age of cosmic exploration. It led to something much more important: The Earth Age. We left home to explore the Universe and discovered for the first time the place we came from. The image of our planet rising on the sky of the Moon became the iconic symbol of ecology, fragility and globalization.
Thinking machines will mean a huge change in the way we understand something much more subtle and alien than machines: Ourselves. Teaching machines to think will teach us who we are and how we think.
We do not think the way we think. Most of what we do in terms of advanced information processing we do not think about at all. We just do it.
A child is threatened and we act, immediately. Only afterwards do we start thinking about it. A thought appears in our mind, a beautiful, luminescent and breathtaking thought. It is just there. We did not think of it before it was a thought.
We are not consciously aware of most of the information we process when we think. It all happens unconsciously, in our mind, in our body. Right away.
We are not even rational in the sense of being logical and explicitly deductive. We are fast, intuitive and emotional.
Economists believe we are homo economicus, selfish and rational, acting with reason in our own self-interest. But most economic and social interactions deal with fairness, trust, sharing and long-term relationships. Experimental economics show us that when we act directly and without hesitation we are very social and cooperative. Only when we start thinking for some seconds do we choose to be selfish.
Unless we deal with computers. When we play economic games with machine counterparts we tend to be cold and egoistic. You can even measure the difference in our blood flow in the brain and in the hormones in our blood stream.
We think of machines the way economists think about ourselves: as rational, coldblooded and selfish. Therefore we treat them as such.
By instinct we know that humans are more human than when we think of ourselves in theoretical terms of economy (and other social sciences). We act by this instinct, but when we think about it we are still under the false impression that we are homo economicus.
Building thinking machines will show us that there was a deep evolutionary wisdom in our social instincts: In the long run it pays much better to be unselfish. It is not truly selfish to be selfish, since being unselfish leads to better results for yourself.
The strategic lesson we will have to teach machines is all about love.
Robot scientist Hans Moravec has described different biological and technological systems according to their ability to process and store information. At one end simple, rule-based and stereotypical creatures like viruses, worms and computers. At the other end the truly powerful information processors like whales, elephants and human beings.
All the creatures with huge capacity are mammals. Their offspring are not born with the full program for functioning. They go through many years of upbringing before they can act on their own. Their skills are not specified as rules, but as lessons learned from experience. You bang your head into a table until you learn not to. Learning by trial-and-error. Exploring.
This is only possible because the young mammals are taken care of by older mammals. Parenting. Nursing. Love.
Love creates the trust that gives the young mammals confidence enough to go out and collect some big data about the world. And digest it. And heal the wounds.
Love is the recipe for how to grow a human intelligence, a human set of skills and a human ability to think.
To make machines think we will have to give them love. It will be more like a kindergarten than a hi-tech lab.
We will have to allow machines to explore all by themselves, do weird things, not just act according to our wants. They will have to be not tame, but wild, acting from their own will.
The challenge is: Love wild machines that think. We have to get past the ideas of machines that think and of artificial life. Because when it is alive—and therefore able to self-reproduce and to change—it is no longer artificial. When it thinks on its own, it is no longer a machine, but a thinking creature.
It will be illogical, intuitive and benevolent. We will wonder how it became so. Until we understand that it was created in our own image.