What is a strong artificially intelligent machine (SAM)? It is a machine whose intelligence equals that of a human being. Although no SAM currently exists, many artificial intelligence researchers project SAMs will exist by the mid-21st Century. This has major implications and raises an important question, Should we consider SAMs a new life-form? Numerous philosophers and AI researchers have addressed this question. Indeed, the concept of artificial life dates back to ancient myths and stories. The best known of these is Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, published in 1823. In 1986, American computer scientist Christopher Langton, however, formally established the scientific discipline that studies artificial life (i.e., A-life).

No current definition of life considers any A-life simulations to be alive in the traditional sense (i.e., constituting a part of the evolutionary process of any ecosystem). That view of life, however, is beginning to change as artificial intelligence comes closer to emulating a human brain. For example, Hungarian-born American mathematician John von Neumann (1903–1957) asserted, “life is a process which can be abstracted away from any particular medium.” In effect, this suggests that strong AI represents a new life-form, namely A-life.

In the early 1990s, ecologist Thomas S. Ray asserted that his Tierra project, a computer simulation of artificial life, did not simulate life in a computer, but synthesized it. This begs the following question, “How do we define A-life?”

The earliest description of A-life that comes close to a definition emerged from an official conference announcement in 1987 by Christopher Langton, published subsequently in the 1989 book Artificial Life: The Proceedings of an Interdisciplinary Workshop on the Synthesis and Simulation of Living Systems:

Artificial life is the study of artificial systems that exhibit behavior characteristics of natural living systems. It is the quest to explain life in any of its possible manifestations, without restriction to the particular examples that have evolved on Earth. This includes biological and chemical experiments, computer simulations, and purely theoretical endeavors. Processes occurring on molecular, social, and evolutionary scales are subject to investigation. The ultimate goal is to extract the logical form of living systems.

There is little doubt that both philosophers and scientists lean toward recognizing A-life as a new life-form. For example, noted philosopher and science fiction writer Sir Arthur Charles Clarke (1917–2008) wrote in his book 2010: Odyssey Two, “Whether we are based on carbon or on silicon makes no fundamental difference; we should each be treated with appropriate respect.” Noted cosmologist and physicist Stephen Hawking (b. 1942) darkly speculated during a speech at the Macworld Expo in Boston, “I think computer viruses should count as life. I think it says something about human nature that the only form of life we have created so far is purely destructive. We’ve created life in our own image” (Daily News, [August 4, 1994]). The main point is that we are likely to consider strong AI a new form of life.

After reading this post, What do you think?