Human achievement and artificial intelligence

Ethics and Information Technology 25 (3):1-12 (2023)
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In domains as disparate as playing Go and predicting the structure of proteins, artificial intelligence (AI) technologies have begun to perform at levels beyond which any humans can achieve. Does this fact represent something lamentable? Does superhuman AI performance somehow undermine the value of human achievements in these areas? Go grandmaster Lee Sedol suggested as much when he announced his retirement from professional Go, blaming the advances of Go-playing programs like AlphaGo for sapping his will to play the game at a high level. In this paper, I attempt to make sense of Sedol’s lament. I consider a number of ways that the existence of superhuman-performing AI technologies could undermine the value of human achievements. I argue there is very little in the nature of the technology itself that warrants such despair. (Compare: does the existence of a fighter jet undermine the value of being the fastest human sprinter?) But I also argue there are several more localized domains where these technologies threaten to displace human beings from being able to achieve valuable things at all. This is a particular worry for those in unequal societies, I argue, given the difficulty of many achievements and the corresponding amount of resources needed to achieve great things.

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Brett Karlan
Purdue University


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