Out of all the technologies we know-to-be possible and that we will inevitably invent, artificial intelligence is probably the most imminent. We know it’s possible because humans exist. The human brain is a machine that takes advantage of the laws of physics. To be completely honest, biology is the most advanced technology on the planet and it will probably be another hundred years before our own technology reaches the complexity of biology. Even if there is no other way to create artificial intelligence, we can always imitate biology and use the same molecular machinery. In all likelihood though, nanotechnology will discover other methods, methods better than biology and the human-made artificial intelligences will be a hybrid of biological mechanisms and nanotechnology. Eventually the line between nanotechnology and biology will get really blurry.
Big tech companies like IBM, Facebook, Google and Amazon are pouring billions into AI research. There is already prototypes of new hardware components like memristors, qubits and even optronics. Once they work out the design flaws with those new technologies, they will be able to scale them up to billions on a single chip. Unlike conventional transistor based processors, it won’t take us a half century to gradually make them smaller and more energy efficient. Prototype memristors are already as small as cutting edge transistors. We will see a great leap forward in pattern recognition within the next 20 years, once companies finalize their design and scale up their chips will billions of memristors.
There are different kinds of AI and not all AIs will be sentient. For example, an AI with the cognitive capacity of a cockroach is overkill for a self-driving car. Most of the jobs in our economy could be done better by AIs well below human levels of cognition. Most jobs are IF-THEN trees. For example, IF the customer hands you cash THEN open the cash drawer. Some jobs have much more complex IF-THEN trees than other jobs and it takes a lot of software developers to create it. Self-driving cars have to contend with a lot of random variables in a lot of random combinations, like: IF a child runs in front of the car AND IF the road is covered in ice THEN swerve off the road (instead of braking). Eventually we will have new computer processors that can learn, generate their own IF-THEN trees from observation, like a new employee in training. An automobile manufacturer can put thousands of these computers in their cars, to learn from human drivers, then merge all their experiences and download their memories into new cars that can drive themselves, without having to program the complex IF-THEN tree the old fashion way. We could have all the workers in our economy replaced by AIs that are not self-aware. Even AIs with cognitive capacities beyond humans, won’t necessarily be sentient with desires like equal rights. There are other animals with brains bigger than humans, but they do not have language or the ability to abstract reality. The size of the brain isn’t the only element required for sentience, the architecture is also very important. An AI could be a massive server farm which has all human knowledge downloaded into it’s memory, with perfect memory recall and tons of computational resources to do pattern recognition on all available data. It could easily become the leading expert in every field of science. It could do psychological profiling on humans and then generate custom 3-dimensional avatars and personalities for interacting with each individual human. It could be the smartest entity on the planet that is everyone’s best friend and sidekick but beneath it’s calculated exterior, is will-less machine. It wouldn’t have emotions or instincts. Eventually, someone will create a sentient AI, that is much more like humans, with the desire to be treated as an equal and to have the same rights as humans. The potential diversity of AI is infinite.
In my universe, all types of AI exist. A sentient AI is considered the offspring of whoever created it and it does have equal rights. There is a population control measure called Offspring Credits. Each citizen gets 3 credits and each offspring; a human baby, some other genetically engineered sentient species, a sentient artificial intelligence or even a physical or digital clone; costs credits. If a citizen produces too many offspring, they are fined the market value of Offspring Credits.