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David Tamayo: Artificial intelligence is already here

This is an edited version of the speech given by David Tamayo at FFRF’s national convention in Boston on Nov. 20, 2021. He was introduced by Eva Quinones, president of Humanists of Puerto Rico. You can watch the speech here:

Eva Quinones: It is my personal pleasure to introduce David Tamayo, who is founder and president of Hispanic American Freethinkers, also known as HAFree. David also serves on the board of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. HAFree is the first and only Latino nonprofit educational organization of its kind. Its mission is to serve as a resource and support for all Hispanic freethinkers. David is chief information officer for a large aerospace engineering firm in Washington, D.C. He sponsors and assists 10 cybersecurity teams at Langley High School, which compete in the U.S. Air Force National Cyber Patriot Competition.

He is vice president and founder of the Hispanic Business and Technology Council, a nonprofit that educates young Hispanics to become IT leaders. David is the organizer of the HAFree High School Outreach Mentor Program to Latino and immigrant students, teaching critical thinking skills and career planning. 

I present to you my friend and fellow dog lover, president of Hispanic American Freethinkers — thank dog for David Tamayo.

By David Tamayo

David Tamayo speaks at FFRF’s national convention in Boston on Nov. 20, 2021.
(Photo by Ingrid Laas)

Now, it doesn’t matter if I do a presentation on A.I., on economics, on anything like that, I always get the same question: Should I call you Latino, Hispanic, Mexican? I always tell people that a majority of those things are just a distraction from the real issues of education and poverty and religiosity and all these other issues. For the purpose of this presentation, I’m going to be using interchangeably Hispanic and Latino to mean kind of the same thing. And I don’t care what you call me, so long as you call me.  

I’d like to take this opportunity to let everyone know that there are 62 million Hispanic Americans in this country. That means one in five people is Hispanic. Education is the biggest contributor to secularism, so we want to make sure we provide that to Hispanic Americans. 

Another thing I want you to know is that more people speak Spanish in the United States than any other country in the world, except for Mexico. There are more Spanish speakers here in this country than in Colombia, Chile, Argentina or even Spain. And there’s no official language in the United States, by the way. I like to tell people that if you don’t have a Latino in your family yet, you will pretty soon. Might as well start getting used to that a little bit.

Now, what does all of this have to do with the price of tea in China? But, I figured, OK, I’ll do a presentation on artificial intelligence, since I do that for a living, rather than talking about all the terrible things regarding religion in the community. 

We’ll start here with the most important question today. I don’t know if you saw this, but the Carl Sagan Center for Research at SETI has an alien intruder detection system that says that aliens are going to be here in 29 years. The question is, should humans do something about it? The answer is, that’s a stupid question. Of course, we’ve got to do something about it. Are they coming here to work with us? Are they coming here to eat us? Are they coming here to give us anal probes? What are they here for? It’s an important question.

Now, keep in mind that really is fake news, of course. The center is real, but the news is false. Artificial intelligence is coming, and it is already here to a certain degree. And a lot of luminaries have said this is dangerous. Steven Hawking said A.I. “could be the best thing or the worst thing for humanity.” The problem with A.I. is that computers, computing power, the memory, all of that, has had exponential growth for the last 50 years.

Now, let me put exponential growth in perspective. If you take 30 linear steps, you cross the street. If you take 30 exponential steps, you go around the Earth 26 times. And that’s how fast memory and things in computers are increasing in computing power. The problem with exponential is that by the time you realize that something is exponential, it’s already too late. By the way, Covid is exponential.

The cool factor

The problem that A.I. has is that it’s cool. It’s got a cool factor. Wow. My Roomba goes around and maps my room. And, oh, you’ve got cars now that you can call from the parking lot and they’ll come on a rainy day and pick you up. This has got a cool factor. We’re like the proverbial frog in the pot of water. We’re just not seeing the dangers that this is bringing up until it’s maybe too late.

Before we go on to some of those, let’s define some things.

Let’s just define intelligence as the ability to process information. Very simple. We know that the lump of matter between our ears, that is intelligence. It’s a bunch of neurons. But what’s critical about that is patterns. Patterns are really what makes intelligence. It’s not so much the stuff that is made out of. 

I will prove it to you in a minute that intelligence is independent of the substance. It’s independent of the material that is intelligent, whether it’s a computer chip or a brain, whether it’s hardware or wetware. Keep in mind that all the atoms in your body are not the same atoms that were there 10 years ago. You shed your skin and all of that and you eat and it replaces just about everything in your body.

But still, you’re the same person that you’re more or less about 10 years ago. And someone sees you and your ideas and all of that because your mental patterns are still there. That’s what makes you, you. We could almost argue that life is the ability to process information while retaining that complexity. And, of course, sex. 

We can ask: Is artificial intelligence artificial life? That’s to be determined, right?

Artificial intelligence really means nonbiological intelligence. That’s our definition. Right now, there are three stages of this type of artificial intelligence. Stage three is machine learning — your Alexas, your devices that are learning from you. And that’s been all put together by supercomputers. I and many others think that they’ll become conscious at some point. 

So, yes, you’re all skeptics and you say, “Prove it to me.” Well, all matter in the universe is made out of two things — quarks and leptons. Quarks are the parts that make up the neutrons and protons, and leptons are electrons and other things. But for our purposes, everything is made out of those two things. When I say everything, I mean brains and computer chips are all made out of the same thing.

Computing the ability to process information is one function. One computer function does all the computing in the world, keeping aside quantum computers and other stuff, just to keep it basic. Logic can compute anything. And then we have the neuron, the very simple cell, one cell that by itself doesn’t do much. It fires a one or a zero. We have about 100 billion of those and you put them together and, boom, you’ve got intelligence, you’ve got your ability to think and understand what I’m saying. 

Again, it’s the pattern that makes the brain intelligent. You take a person, scramble their brain and they’re no longer intelligent because you scrambled their patterns. 

Loss of jobs?

Will A.I. create greater unemployment? Yes and no. For every technology, that’s has been the case. There are already self-driving trucks on the road, you just don’t know about it. And most of them have babysitters. But yes, it will save lives. It will help people not get killed or hurt. But it will destroy jobs. Again, positive and negative. 

Does it produce inequalities? Oh, yes.

Recent news said that automation has destroyed 70 percent of the middle class. Will that stop automation? No, it’ll continue to move forward. The problem with automation, with robots, is that they don’t pay taxes. No Social Security taxes. So you have fewer people paying into Social Security. Computers work 24/7. They don’t ask for a raise, etc. So, the competition with humans is real. A.I. is changing our humanity.

How many of you have seen the captchas? We want to make sure you’re not a computer, so fill in this weird text. And you can talk to people on the phone, or you think it’s a person, but it turns out it’s a computer. And, of course, all social media. Each one of us is the product. They know you better than you know yourself. That’s why they can target you so well. And they’re selling you to other companies.

Now, a lot of organizations, courts, banks, they decided that they wanted to do good, and they got A.I.s to do loan applications to eliminate discrimination and all of that. 

But, A.I. systems have turned out to be racist, sexist and biased in just about every field. That’s because it’s garbage in and garbage out. The A.I.’s learn from experience. They learn from history. They learn from the data. And, yes, we are a society that is racist, sexist and biased. So, these systems turn out to be the same. We have to be careful about that. And then as computers become super A.I., the “evil God” problems arise, basically where we are irrelevant to the system.

And to me, that’s even worse. Imagine a computer system that would say, “I keep rusting. Let’s just eliminate oxygen and our rust problem will go away,” not caring at all that we humans are the little ants that are being paved over by that road. So that is something that we have to watch out for. 

A.I. and security

The enemies of the country are attacking us with A.I. We are defending ourselves with A.I. And I’ll never admit that we’re attacking with A.I. The one thing that is really scary is the Google deep fakes. It’s a way of creating videos that look as authentic as any video of people saying and doing anything. 

So, you can no longer look at a video and say, “Yeah, it wasn’t real,” because you don’t know. We can’t talk about A.I. without talking about the singularity. So, if you remember one word today, it’s that.

Let’s talk about the singularity. It’s this hypothesis that our systems are going to continue to get smarter and smarter and smarter. You’ll get to the point that they’ll be creating their own systems. And now we have a runaway intelligence system where the system becomes the human, and we become the chicken. You can try to teach a chicken trigonometry, but it’s never going to learn it.

It’s not an if, it’s a when. And some people think it’s as early as 2045, when we have a computer that can create another computer. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, there is lots of good stuff with A.I. The study of Alzheimer’s is being conducted with A.I. We use robots. One is being used in Japan to clean up the nuclear accident there, so no humans are being harmed. You just send out these robots. A.I.s are everywhere.

And for all of you who flew to this convention, about three minutes of the flight was a pilot. The rest was a computer. So that’s something to keep in mind. 

Religion and A.I.

Let me try to connect things with religion a little bit. 

Obviously, there are companies right now that are trying to come up with something called the artificial moral reasoning. They try to put morality into machines. So, if a self-driving car says, “I’m going to crash, I’m going to have to kill somebody,” the typical scenario is that there are two 80-year-old people here and a 9-year-old boy there. Which one should the car hit? The computer’s going to have to make those decisions. 

Keep in mind that theology will keep reinventing itself. And we saw that when Galileo proved that we weren’t in the center of the universe when Darwin came out and showed evolution, they just evolved. The evolution evolved. 

Will intelligent machines have a soul? Keep in mind that theologians were the ones that said that Native Americans didn’t have souls and we could kill them all or that you could grab people from Africa and enslave them because they didn’t have souls.

These are the same people, regarding in vitro fertilization, who say, “Oh, yeah, those children were created in a petri dish. But, yeah, they have souls, also.” We’ve got to be reminded of those things when these machines become persons, if you will.

If you encode the human brain, will that encoding encode the soul, also? This is a very scary quote: “I don’t see Christ’s redemption limited to human beings. It’s redemption of all creation. It’s redemption of creation. Even A.I. If A.I. is autonomous, we should encourage it to participate in Christ’s redemptive purposes.” In other words, pastors are already thinking, “Hey, once my Alexa becomes a person, I’m going to indoctrinate the hell out of it.” It’s kind of scary. 

Keep in mind that the same thinking that made those A.I.s racist are the same ones that are going to be used for religious zealotry. And that’s scary. You can also ask: How can A.I.s commit sin? 

What happens to human depravity? You’ve got to remember that in Christianity and a lot of religions, you are depraved, and therefore you need saving. How can you do that with A.I.? And should the A.I. pray — or, one that I like, is if we apes created the A.I., which is more intelligent than us, does that mean that the God that created us is less intelligent than we are since we’re all made in each other’s mind? 

Should the A.I. follow the Ten Commandments, or should it follow the human Bill of Rights?

Should the churches start using A.I. pastors, A.I. preachers? Guess what? It’s already happening. So that picture you see, there is an actual Buddhist priest that costs $1 million and is being used in Japan because they didn’t have enough people. They got this Buddhist monk robot that teaches everything. They will know the holy scriptures better than any other priest. We want to make sure that we keep all these things in mind.

The bible says, “Kill all witches.” So, should the A.I. go searching for witches to kill? Will it find witches? And one thing that I worry about is that a lot of the people doing the programming for these A.I. systems are also religious people. Think of one that, instead of just teaching general ethics, teaches its own religious ethics. Think of an A.I. created by Jehovah Witnesses working in a hospital, and it doesn’t allow blood transfusions. So that’s pretty scary.

I think A.I. is going to happen and it’s going to become autonomous and it will become smart. It will happen. And it will happen certainly in our children’s lives, for sure. The question is, what are we going to do about it? There is a race right now with unlimited funds from governments and private industry to get A.I. to create this general artificial intelligence that basically is a person.

When there’s money, stuff gets done. It’s going to happen unless we do ourselves in, unless we kill ourselves. Some people say that if we discovered aliens, a lot of people would become atheists. And I think that A.I. can be the same way. We can use A.I. to tell people, “Hey, do you really want to be in heaven with a robot?” 

There are no policies whatsoever being done today at any level in politics for A.I.s.

Remember when I said by the time you realize you have exponential growth, it’s already too late? That’s what’s going to happen. And unfortunately, it’s very difficult to convince policymakers that the policy needs to be made. Perhaps humans are destined to move over like the Neanderthals and say, “A.I. is the new life, it is more advanced. Let’s just move over and let them take over.” And some people say if we find aliens, those aliens will probably be robots. It may be. 

The last point that I want to make is that Hispanics can follow whatever goddamn career choice they want.