The power, influence, and perceived importance of the three horsemen (ML, DS, and AI) has continued to grow apace. This, despite the fact that machines can’t learn, data science is not science, and artificial intelligence (still) does not yet actually exist, and may never. The ascendance of these three technologies, I argue, has come at a cost. Part of this cost, has been the diminishing of the importance of biology. By that I do no mean to say the importance of the biological sciences or interest in biology even, but rather its uniqueness or, to make up a word, its differentness.
I am not a religious or spiritual person and I don’t believe there is anything particularly special about humans compared to any other life form on earth or in the galaxy or universe. So by uniqueness I do not mean to say or imply specialness. Instead what I mean to highlight and emphasize is the difference between the biological and the abiological. The two are wholly different things/concepts/categories. In a sense they exist in two entirely different worlds though they share a world as well. What can be said of the one, while it can be said of the other, to do so is to commit a logical error. It is ascribing an attribute or characteristic to a thing which it can not possibly (not logically possibly) possess. The universal laws of logic simply do not allow it. So when people suggest that machines can “learn” or are “intelligent” (two concepts which can only logically be applied to biological entities) they are committing a logical error. As I have said many, many, many times, if a machine could learn it would no longer be a machine. If we did have artificial intelligence, whatever thing it was that possessed it, would no longer be a machine either. What it would be is an open question, but there can be no question that it would no longer be a computer or a machine.
An actual artificial intelligence, assuming it is possible, a thing of which I am still not totally convinced, would seem to challenge the strict division between the biological and abiological I have described. In one version of AI it would be wholly abiological and yet could be said to do things I have said only biological entities are capable of (logically capable of) such as learning, or having intelligence. Indeed the birth/emergence/creation of a true AI would represent a reordering of the world and our understanding of our place in it. To use a term I hate, it would be a paradigm shift in how we view the biological and the abiological. One thing a paradigm shift can do is to reorder logical categories. This is because when paradigm shifts occur our language changes to adapt to and adopt the new reality. As our language changes, the logical space of our world, which is partially defined by the language we use to describe it, also changes. Contrary to much thinking about it, the logical structure of the world is not wholly fixed. Though many parts are fixed and unchanging other parts can and do shift with the language used to describe it. The unchanging parts are composed of/represented by formal and mathematical logic (essentially equations, formulae, logical syllogisms, etc.) while the parts that can and do change are composed of/represented by/emerge from everyday language and its use.
In a world with true AI the biological would lose a good chunk of what makes it unique, what makes it different. Why does that bother me so much you might ask. After all I just said I am not a religious or spiritual person. What does it matter if the biological is less unique or different then we once thought? A great question, to which my only answer is, it just does.