Alexa, “Hello, good morning; how can I help you?”. “Alexa switches on the air conditioner, heats the water, plays soothing music and prepares a cup of coffee,” Alexa repeats the command and activates all that has been instructed while you laze around on the bed. Moments later, a mobile lying close to the bed buzzes, flashing notifications. You flip open to read, and to your utter horror, you realise that the talk you delivered a day before has been altered artificially, and an offensive angle has been given to it. Your mailbox is full of hate mail. You have been asked to present before the board to clarify your stand.
If Science today accumulates certainties, the new artificial intelligence (AI) generates cumulative ambiguities. The question arises, is AI good or bad? Numerous literature, films, and television programmes have addressed the ethics of AI. These are more important than ever as AI becomes increasingly pervasive daily. Undoubtedly, AI will play an essential role in the future. The $20 billion AI industry shows no sign of slowing down.
Using Chat GPT, Alexa, or Google Assistant is just a scratch of what AI can do. On the beneficial side, AI can predict conditions like kidney disease long before humans feel the deterioration and help predict crime and natural disasters. Predictive analytics and AI appreciation can help make sense of scattered data to give meaningful emerging trends, helping businesses in a big way.
At the same time, it has significant potential to be harmful. Amazon stopped using a hiring AI platform when it turned out that the system favoured male resumes mainly because they used male resumes to train them. Similarly, a criminal justice algorithm in Florida was twice as likely to designate African American defendants as high-risk than it was to label white defendants as high-risk. The programmes themselves are not biased; however, AI will build upon these biases if the data from which the system learns is inherently subjective. AI by malicious parties like terrorist cells could present unpredictable danger.
The range of potentially harmful consequences of AI is as broad as its potential for good. This is being understood worldwide; endeavours are underway to have a common regulatory and legal framework, laying down harmonised rules for AI. European Commission proposed Artificial Intelligence Act on 21st April 2021, a common regulatory framework encompassing all sectors, less the military. Researchers carefully program AI to count for biases, legality, and empathy.
Is it adequate to lay down regulations and be contented that the industry is guarded against its harmful effect? Fatefully, history is replete with examples of world and statutory bodies having failed miserably on numerous occasions to control uncalled misery unleashed on humanity despite regulations and statutory bodies. Keeping the military out of ethical regulations of AI is a manifestation of a devil we are creating, which will glare humanity in its face. Then why is it believed that imposing restrictions and regulations will be sufficient to control AI? Just setting ‘Laws only’ is a flawed argument. Geoffrey Hinton, widely recognised as the godfather of AI, has quit Google, warning about the growing dangers from developments in the field despite all monitoring and regulations.
The negative effect of AI is so profound that mere external monitoring alone may be counterproductive; we have to look within to control AI. We need to work to build ethical software within people. There must be learning imparted that man individually becomes an ethical pole and executes without external monitoring. I do not advocate doing away with the legal framework; both must coexist to make the ethical framework practical and implementable. The success of A I will depend on two things. How we build AI and how we apply it. In both cases, the common denominator for beneficial and progressive artificial intelligence for humanity is ‘ethics’.
To support my argument, I am drawn to ancient Indian Vedic scriptures. Vedas talks of the “Main goal of a man.” Implies that humanity’s inception on earth must follow a path which would lead him to his desired Goal, that is: –
(a) Dharma – Ethics
(b) Artha – Securities (Wealth, power, influence, fame etc.).
(c) Kama – Pleasures.
(d) Moksha – Liberation.
Vedas say that Dharma is the foundation of the building blocks of life. Every individual has an innate desire to be ethical. No matter how undesirable an individual is, he yearns to be moral. Vedas talk of Dharma as the soil in which the plant of Artha and Kama needs to grow. Wealth, power, influence, fame, pleasure etc., all must be embodied in ethics. It is the hierarchical structure or the need of a man. If entrenched in Dharma, the man will move to his desirous Goal of Mokhsa: innate peace and happiness. It is a realisation that Artha and Kama are happy, but moving beyond is true happiness which is profound and everlasting.
What is this innate desire to be ethical? Why does human yearn to be ethical despite unwanted desires? Geoffrey Hinton now regrets his work, he says. He told the BBC some of the dangers of AI chatbots were “quite scary”. Why is he openly voicing his concern? It is that innate desire to be ethical. Something within him guided him to follow Dharma, the Goal of humanity. Patanjali Yoga Sutra, an ancient Indian scripture, answers this. It beautifully explains the involution and evolution of humanity’s journey from subtle to grosser aspects of existence. The gross existence, which includes the physical body – constitutes five senses, free will, and the thinking instrument, i.e. the brain. The Soul, the subtlest aspect of the spectrum, constitutes Divinity, Cosmic Consciousness, and Divine Will.
The physical body, with its thinking instrument, works with acquired knowledge. The input through senses stimulates the stored-up information within the brain, computes the information with similar stored information and presents the final output. This all happens in an ethical environment created by the Soul. It is This cosmic consciousness within us which guides us to be ethical and moulds the resultant outcome, but the free will, part of the physical body within, remains more pronounced and satisfied that acquired information knowledge is just adequate to execute life well. The ethical considerations, though being there, needs to be addressed or understood. Life revolves within the confines of limited acquired information or knowledge – Ignorance or Avidaya.
The storehouse of wisdom, the innate knowledge, the cosmic consciousness with divinity, the ethical component within the individual, is diluted but keeps flashing at regular intervals, awakening the innate desire to be ethical. It is this guiding light within which regulates and draws the person to Dharma or ethics despite it being ignored. We must make concerted efforts to pronounce the guiding light within clouded by acquired knowledge.
If we compare this to the present civilisation, humanity has been smitten with the acquired knowledge and, based on its analytical capability, feels – ‘I know it all’. And what it knows, it develops and acquires. AI is but a replica of what the brain can do. It is based on input signals computed based on acquired/stored-up information in algorithms and produces an outcome. Unlike what happens in a brain, there are no ‘if and but‘ of emotions, spiritual or ethical quotient. A normal brain is bombarded with 30000 inputs every second, of which roughly 120 enter the brain’s thinking process (based on the Patanjali Yoga Sutra). At this rate, the individual brain gets involved only with the brain process and the Soul guidance, which works as a catalyst, is relegated and ignored. The Soul inspiration may be subdued, but it does exist and influences the resultant output. A similar component is missing in AI and thus has a huge potential to be exploited in an unwanted sphere that can threaten humanity.
The challenge is to make the catalytic behaviour of Soul more pronounced, which works as an inbuilt ethical pole and a moral compass for the proper execution of technology to enhance humanity. More than just relying on regulations and restrictions may be required. Arousing the catalytic Soul behaviour in individuals is a sure guarantee for the ethical conduct of AI. Improving the moral compass amongst the population will ensure a moralistic advancement of AI which will benefit humanity and pave the way for future generations. We must work like the wise farmer who prepares the soil for harvest. We must prepare our soil, the body/ brain system, for spiritual harvest.
Developing the Ethical Pole
Patanjali Yoga Sutras are the origin of Yoga. There are speculations that these were written about 2500 years ago. The Yoga Sutras is the most scientific spiritual book ever written during ancient times. It talks of the sciences of physical to beyond physical. What, 100 years back, was beyond physical; today, it is part of our daily understanding; examples are mobile phones. Sutras go into great detail about how the thinking process is effortlessly enmeshed into universal intelligence. What present-day Science knows is just 20% of the brain capacity; most brain functioning is still in the realms of exploration. Patanjali Yoga Sutras talk about the brain’s capability to read others’ thoughts/minds and communicate through telepathy.
Patanjali says that by controlling the outgoing tendencies of the mind and the senses and bringing them within, practitioners can develop greater control of their minds and senses and gain access to a deeper awareness and consciousness. This is called Sanyama. By performing Sanyama on the body, the shape is altered so that the reflected light cannot reach the observer’s sight, rendering the body invisible. Sharp angles and absorption of the visible spectrum by the body of stealth aircraft employ this technique to render them invisible. Patanjali discusses performing Sanyam on the heart, which provides complete awareness of consciousness. Recent scientific findings have demonstrated a close relationship between the heart and intellect. Similarly, he describes how a Yogi can read and control the other person’s psyche by performing Sanyam on his thought structure. This is done presently through various processes of AI. Patanjali suggests doing Sanyam on the heart, which he says will result in perfect awareness of one’s consciousness. Recent findings in the field of Science have pointed to a close relationship between the mind and the heart. Similarly, he describes how a Yogi can read another person’s mind by performing Sanyam on that person’s thinking structure while still exercising control over it. This is done presently through various processes of AI.
In the seminal book on extra-terrestrial abductions of humans by inhabitants of Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs), John Mack, the professor of psychiatry at Harvard University, has shown that all the persons abducted (abductees) and taken inside the spaceships talked about extra-terrestrials floating in the air; who could interact telepathically with them; read their minds and modify them; become invisible and exhibited almost all the supposed supernatural powers written in the Patanjali Yoga Sutras. Dr Mack interviewed more than 300 abductees worldwide about their experiences, and they all talked about similar supernatural powers of extra-terrestrials. In other words, the Science of physical to beyond physical.
Patanjali Yoga Sutra is an explicit method of developing the skill to look within, tap the ocean of knowledge, and develop the silent/dormant part of the brain. To build capacity and capability, to understand and draw wisdom which not only will strengthen Dharma, it will open a new vista for scientific development and a way forward for humanity. In other words, the Patanjali Yoga sutra gives a method to make Soul catalytic behaviour more pronounced within, ensuring that the brain’s analytical power is built on Dharma or ethics – aligning it with the Goal of Mankind –”Dharma, Artha, Kama, Moksha”. The recommended method is Eight steps to Yoga (union) to steady the thinking instrument: –
- Yama – Morality/ Self-Control. These are the five commandments or universal duties carried out in thoughts, words, and deeds. Niyama / Rules. The observance of rules to cleanse the body externally and internally from all foreign matters, which, being fermented, create different diseases in the system. Cleaning the mind from all prejudices and dogmas that make one narrow – contentment in all circumstances; and obedience to the rightful precepts of the Divine personages.
- Asana /Posture. Especially of the thinking Instrument. Once the first two are met, man is fit for the practice of Asanas.
- Pranayama. The right control of life forces by controlling PRANAS and correct inhalation and exhalation.
- Pratayahara. It is an abstraction or subjugation/ calming of senses.
- Dharna. Implying attention.
- Dhyana. Meditation.
- Samadhi. Contemplation.
Adopting the 8 Steps to Yoga in schools and workplaces is a guaranteed way to awaken and consolidate the ethical poll within every individual. An instinct to be ethical will be more pronounced; the postulated checks, balances, and restriction regulations will be a mere reference only. Society would be more united and innately happy. AI, in the true sense, will become a constructive subordinate. It will relieve humanity from mundane work associated with plain brain functioning and give humanity an elevated platform to move forward from the ability of the physical to beyond the physical. New avenues will be explored, True sense of the Goal of humanity will be understood.
Then we can call – Earth truly a global village and humanity as one with no colour, creed, dogmatic beliefs and factionalisms. Humanity will truly move to a higher platform, with machine intelligence as its trusted partner.
- Patanjalayayogadarsna A comparative study by Swami Ananda Rishi and Mrs Ananda Varsha. Yoga Vidya Niketan publication.
- The Complete Book Of Yoga by Swami Vivekananda. Finger Print publishing.
- The Holy Science by Jnanavtara Swami Shri Yukteshwar Giri, Jaico Publishing House.
- Human Encounter with Aliens – Abduction by John Mack, Psychiatrist, Harvard University.
- Yoga Sutra of Sage Patanjali – Exposition and Practices by Shree Rama, scribe – Shri S N Tavaria.
- The Essence of Bhagavad Gita by Paramhansa Yogananda as remembered by his disciple Swami Kriyananda.