Egeo, mítico rey de Atenas, consultando a la Pitia, el Oráculo délfico, que está sentada en un trípode.

Aegean, mythical king of Athens, consulting the Pythia

Before we get into more practical discussion about AI, let’s establish a bit more of the philosophical context.

The human need for communication is not limited to interactions with other people, but extends also to non-human interlocuteurs. Dogs, cats, and various other pets tend to make for relatively boring conversation companions. That’s why people went to Delphi, where gods would, however cryptically, communicate wisdom to them through the priestess. That’s why Moses climbed Mount Sinai to receive directions from a superior entity.

These examples only scratch the surface of the human desire to consult with someone or something smarter than ourselves. Interestingly, super-natural entities never had much to say about technicalities or science. However, at the dawn of the 19th century some sought to change this. Carl Friedrich Gauss decided to speak with Martians. He planned to arrange wheat fields into the shape of Pythagoras’s Theorem so that extraterrestrials might see them, and infer that we too are intelligent. To what end? So that Carl could discuss with them mathematics that perhaps only he and they could understand, and so that they could share new knowledge with him, which he would then (hopefully) relay to us.

In the 20th century, with the OZMA project, this notion saw a modernized approach. We thought now to harness our ability to send and receive data through radio waves in order to reach out to the universe beyond our solar system. However, faith in good natured and superhumanly wise aliens waned considerably when even the most advanced SETI failed to detect a signal. Chiefly due to the fact that biological evolution requires more permutations and longer periods than the universe can, on average, offer. More concisely: there is, as yet, nothing intelligent to be seen in the sky.

Therefore, there remains one last avenue of satisfying our desire to chat with something smarter and more interesting than ourselves – a superintelligent machine.

If for no other reason, satiating this hunger is why we need AI. It is very likely that, this time, we will succeed. Some of us can hardly wait to have long conversations with HAL. In our impatience we even write blog posts to future super intelligences. To SkyNet in the worse case scenario. Certainly we will get a reply before light or radio waves reach a distant galaxy and return back to Earth. Someday this dialog will take place in real time.