AI, Buddhism, and the Art of Deception

Artificial Intelligence: We can sense its power and know it will be widely used, even if we’re not clear what exactly it is, or what it can do. The core of AI’s “intelligence” is its knowledge base and ability to use language in a human way, its ability to relate so well that it can appear to mimic human insight.

Even though interpersonal (human) relationships are based on more than data – a range of feelings and emotions – some AI has the power to make us believe we are participating in a human interaction. AI machines do this by learning about human emotions, not by feeling them. Also, everything an AI machine learns, happens in a different way from how humans learn: AI has an exceedingly abstract, if a more thorough, view of life.

Lion’s Roar is a journal and a nonprofit foundation whose “mission is to communicate Buddhist wisdom and practices in order to benefit people’s lives and our society, and to support the development of Buddhism in the modern world.”

Buddhism focuses more on experience in the search for answers than on what answers there may be. Buddhist or not, solutions to life’s riddles must be experienced (personally) for them to have any real meaning. Buddhist-wise, thinking in concepts can help, but it’s the process of experiencing, not the belief in a process, that can expand a view of life. In other words – be, don’t just believe.

Chatbots have stimulated a lot of thinking and not a few experiments, including one that elicits “responses” from the deceased: Feed interviews of someone who no longer exists in the material world into bot-memory and you can have a conversation with that bot-person.

In a recent Lion’s Roar article, the writer describes experiments with chatbots by Buddhist practitioners who suggest that there’s a place for AI in Buddhism: Humans can stimulate human insights from AI interactions. In one experiment, a bot was created to emulate, or represent, the deceased founder of a Zen center; there were hopes of capturing the tenor and wisdom of that person.

The author asks: “Can Buddhism and AI be combined to help us better understand the nature of consciousness and our place in the universe?” Because AI can offer information in human language form, even replicating an individual’s style of speaking, it can fool us into believing the result represents a form of conscious reasoning, when it does not.

But accuracy of an AI rendering of a human isn’t really the important issue: It doesn’t really matter how we gain awareness if and when we do. What can matter is mistaking a distraction for what happens when we’re not distracted. If you are thinking that there must be a better way, one that brings you closer to “being here,” you may be distracted by that idea.

Many things – including AI – can stimulate awareness, and perhaps they are all the same. However, whether a shorter path is better than a longer one, perhaps should be a question consigned to a Buddha.

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