From HAL to HAiL

Arguably one of the most iconic evil robots in cinematic history was HAL 9000, the murderous brain of a doomed spaceship in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. However, I don’t think this trope of an red-eyed AI gaining sentience and killing us is an actual real threat we face from robotics or AI. Worrying about that is akin to worrying nuclear weapons will start robbing banks. But killer AI makes a better movie than people losing their jobs to automation or getting relentlessly spammed by bots via social media.

But I’ve been thinking a lot about the term I coined in this blog post for the Human-AI Leviathan, or HAL. Obviously I was making an ironic reference to the original HAL here, and for that reason I would like to withdraw my coinage, or alter it at least. I don’t want people to think I am suggesting that the metalanguage that will evolve between AI and humans is going to be conscious and/or evil.

Plus, most folks won’t get the Leviathan Hobbes reference, and I also think that particular work of philosophy is claptrap. Or people may think I am being literal in suggesting it is a creature or being. It will not be, nor should be talk about it as a being.

In fact, I think this evolving AI feedback loop will be a positive movement in our species evolution. And while it is not a creature or really a language in the traditional symbolic way of thinking about language, I do think Language suggests more of what I intend, that its raison d’être will be human communication and facilitation, than “Leviathan” does.

So, here is my re-coinage:

HAiL, the Human-AI Language.

To break it down, Human comes before the AI because that is what the Singleton Pattern is all about. There is a lower case “i” for AI to remind us that artificial intelligence should never be considered a being. And because it looks cool.

And finally, Language. Because even though this will not be a spoken or coding language solely, this will be a medium of exchange between human beings. We will just be using models of self and society to communicate that only machine intelligence will be able to query effectively.

A concrete example of HAiL is a spam filter. Or a social media news feed. Or a reminder from your calendar app. Or an ad served based on your preferences.

And wonders yet unrealized, like thought mail.

This blog is not about instilling fear of AI. This is about setting a new course. Because naming things is important. If we call the thing evolving and growing around us a language, we can understand that. Spoken languages change and grow around us all day long, and besides the folks who are still upset that nobody uses semicolons properly, generally language evolution is seen as a good or natural process. And nobody tries to marry a language. We break through the confusion that AI is a being in its own right.

HAiL will be a manifestation of technology as an order of life, in the way Kevin Kelly talks about in What Technology Wants, a wonderful book that for some reason I seem to be the only person who made it through. Worth a read. Basically he makes a case that Technology itself has purpose, and is a new type of life. A big idea, maybe a little too big.

AI should be incorporated into our species as HAiL, which suggests both signaling and dangerous ice falling from the skies. Both threat and greeting. A future not of threatening red eyes, but of raising our hands and being heard.

And no, I am not making a Hail Hitler reference. Man, the Internet has ruined us.

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