Cyberpunk 2077: will intelligence really be that advanced? How much truth is there in the video game?

Cyberpunk 2077: will intelligence really be that advanced? How much truth is there in the video game?
The scenario that confronts us with Cyberpunk 2077 is the dystopian one that we have come to know very well in the novels and games belonging to the cyberpunk genre, which the public likes so much.

Cyberpunk has a very visual identity. strong in the collective imagination and actually in Cyberpunk 2077 we find this and much more. In all the works inspired by this trend, however, in addition to flying cars and robots, the real protagonist is advanced artificial intelligence capable of generating sentient machines. But how much truth is there in CD Projekt's video game? To understand this, we interviewed Marcello Ienca, a young and brilliant researcher at the Zurich Polytechnic, as well as a UNESCO consultant and author of the book "Intelligence ^ 2. For a union of natural and artificial intelligence". The text, also available in an ebook version (free) on the publisher's website, traces a precise but accessible (and valuable reading) history of the evolution of natural intelligence (of the brain), of the artificial one and of their incipient "fusion. "examining an overview of the binding ethical problems that arise with the spread of these" man-machine hybrids ". Reading it, one really thinks: other than 2077, Cyberpunk is now. Hence our idea of ​​carrying out a joint work with the young Italian researcher, to understand, starting from his book and his research, what is current in the much discussed CDProjekt videogame. The purpose of Multiplayer is always the same: to stimulate the reader by inviting him to reflect. Here are our questions.

Based on your training and research, you could tell us what are the visible elements in Cyberpunk 2077 (chips under the skin, robotic arms, robots that are part of the citizens ... etc) that we could actually find in the next few years?

As I tell in the book, almost all technologies represented in Cyberpunk are not invented, but already exist today. For example, neural implants have been used for years for the therapy and support of neurological patients such as Parkinson's patients. And the first companies have already arrived, such as Elon Musk's Neuralink, which promise to soon create such implants even for healthy people for cognitive enhancement purposes.

The Braindance, or the brain recording device implanted directly into the human brain that appears in Cyberpunk, is nothing very dissimilar. The same goes for the robotic arms that we already use today to give support to those who have suffered a limb amputation. Not to mention robots, which increasingly populate our society. And don't even the Mega-Corporations that have taken over the country remind us of the current digital giants?

The sentient machines, which are the result of the history of the evolution of natural and artificial intelligence , bring with them a series of ethical problems. What are they in your opinion? What role will intelligence play in machines in the near future?

The intelligence of machines was triggered by the intelligence of human beings. But it works very differently. Because the system that creates it is different. As I explain in the book, a brain and a computer don't work the same way. Already today, intelligent machines are able to free us from a large number of stressful or boring tasks such as vacuuming, doing math, memorizing and retrieving information.

In the near future, they will also help us in more creative tasks such as translating from one language to another, driving a car, recognizing people by face or composing music. Such systems already exist and perform very close to those of the most experienced human beings. If we project ourselves into a more distant future, in 2077 for example, it is not unimaginable to have machines whose intelligence is indistinguishable from that of humans. Ultimately, there is nothing magical or sacred about human intelligence. But only a few billion biological microprocessors called neurons.

But we shouldn't assume that this will happen either. To recreate an intelligence of a level similar to human intelligence it is most likely necessary to understand in detail the functioning of our brain. And we are a long way from this.

We talk a lot about intelligence but often its definition is not very clear: could you give us its definition? Currently intelligence is evaluated (also) through IQ: do you think the tools for evaluating intelligence could evolve?

There is no unanimously agreed definition of intelligence. Especially in relation to artificial intelligence, "intelligence" has turned out to be a stopgap definition: it is all that only human beings can do. Things like arithmetic were once considered intelligent.

Then when it was seen that even the supermarket calculators could do it, it was decided that artificial intelligence had to be something more sophisticated, more related to things like vision, reasoning, or language. When in the supermarkets of 2077 they sell machines capable of seeing, reasoning or speaking, some man of the future will say that "intelligence" still means something else, something that machines will not yet be able to do, such as having a conscious experience.

And so on until there are no more holes to plug. In the book, therefore, I try to develop a less anthropocentric concept of intelligence, one that can explain the surprising and varied capabilities of humans, other animals, the most basic organisms and machines. Standardized tests such as IQ can only capture some of these capabilities. With the evolution of artificial intelligence it will also be inevitable to rethink the tools for measuring intelligence.

What will be the role of intelligence in the future? Is being smarter an advantage for the future, or is the risk of being faced with a scenario like that of Cyberpunk 2077?

The world portrayed by Cyberpunk 2077 is that of technological singularity, that is the point of development of civilization where the progress of technology accelerates beyond the capacity of understanding and control by human beings. But instead of generating a technological utopia in which intelligent machines improve human life, this singularity creates a dystopia characterized by violence and social conflict. Could technology cause such a dystopian scenario? Sure. But not for the reason that many think. That is, not because intelligent machines will become violent and subjugate human beings.

But why will we human beings have developed these technologies in the wrong way, that is, not taking into account the ethical principles and socio-political implications of this technological development. The Mega-Corporations that dominate society in Cyberpunk 2077 are very reminiscent of the way in which the current digital giants hold politics in check and create a society increasingly based on mass surveillance.

The cyber-implants that manipulate the characters of Cyberpunk are nothing more than a fusion of two already existing technologies: algorithms for manipulative purposes and neural implants. This is why in the book I argue that we are at an extremely important historical crossroads: it is up to us to decide whether to begin to direct technological development for the good of humanity (and not just a few) or to decline into a dystopia such as that of Cyberpunk.

What are the risks of the human-machine hybrid? From their evolutionary convergence it is possible to obtain useful tools to "see" more deeply in our head? In this regard, does science actually know the human brain well?

Before being a risk, the human-machine hybrid is an opportunity. Machines can already restore or replace lost functions in people who have suffered a limb amputation or neurological disease. They will soon also allow us to control objects with thought and transform thought into synthetic language. What's even more fascinating is that artificial intelligence and neurotechnology will allow us to learn more about ourselves, especially our brains.

The human brain is the most complex organ in the known universe and we still know very little about it. Yet it is our window to the world. Anything we have ever thought, seen, heard or said is nothing more than a biological process that has taken place in our brains. The problem is that even benevolent technologies can be used for malicious purposes. A knife can peel an apple or stab an innocent person. It depends on how you use it. In the book I explain how the same is true for artificial intelligence and bioengineering.

How will it be possible to enhance natural intelligence through artificial intelligence?

Human beings have always used technology to strengthen and improve themselves. Even simple shoes, a notebook or eyeglasses are, from an evolutionary point of view, tools that allow us an extraordinary enhancement of our physical and perceptive abilities. The most advanced technologies we have today are just the next step in this process of technological evolution. However, while the whole history of technology to date is in some way aimed at creating tools at the service of man, artificial intelligence and neurotechnologies open up two completely new scenarios: that is, to create technological tools that are either completely autonomous (and therefore independent of man) or even integrated with human intelligence as in a sort of symbiosis between brain and machine. These unprecedented scenarios open new horizons in the history of our species. It is up to us to choose between utopia and dystopia.

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