Nikola Tesla's Predictions on Artificial Intelligence
The ideas of the Serbian-American inventor, Nikola Tesla, who lived from 1856 to 1943, were far ahead of their time. Tesla, renowned for his pioneering work in electricity and inventions such as hydroelectric power and the Tesla coil, also had remarkable insights into the future. He accurately predicted the development of wireless technology and even the modern-day cellphone, among other things.
Recently, a resurfaced essay from Tesla has caught the attention of tech enthusiasts. In an essay titled "The Problem of Increasing Human Energy," published in "The Century Magazine" in June 1900, Tesla predicted the emergence of machines with their "own mind." He wrote, "I purpose to show that, however impossible it may now seem, an automaton may be contrived which will have its ‘own mind’ ... it will be able, independent of any operator, left entirely to itself, to perform, in response to external influences affecting its sensitive organs, a great variety of acts and operations as if it had intelligence."
Tesla's essay, now described as his "philosophical treatise," was his attempt to explain how to satisfy humanity's increasing need for energy. Tesla's commentary on the emergence of machines that think independently of humans is reminiscent of modern-day artificial intelligence (AI) systems. AI is generally understood as machines that can simulate human intelligence and carry out various tasks based on prompts by humans.
Tesla and the Telautomaton
Joseph Sikorski, a History & Collection Committee Member at the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, stated that Tesla did foresee an age of machines thinking independently of humans. Sikorski also described Tesla's teleautomaton, a remote-controlled boat that contained the fundamental patents for radio, robotics, and the Nano A.N.D. gate - a primitive logic gate that is a fundamental part of every computer.
In a letter to Purdue University Professor Benjamin Franklin Miessner in the 1890s, Tesla explained that he did not limit himself "to mechanisms controlled from distance but to machines possessed of their intelligence." He stated, "Since that time I had advanced greatly in the evolution of the invention and think that the time is not distant when I shall show an automaton which, left to itself, will act as though possessed of reason and without any willful control from the outside. Whatever be the practical possibilities of such an achievement, it will mark the beginning of a new epoch in mechanics."
Tesla described the teleautomaton as having a "borrowed mind." Sikorski believes that this idea may better illustrate the potential benefits and dangers of unrestricted AI since the mind is "borrowed" from human beings who may be unable to contain their inherent flaws or biases.
Tesla's Influence on Modern AI
Tesla's essay and ideas on the emergence of machines with their own minds were prophetic. They are reminiscent of modern-day AI systems, which are designed to operate without human intervention. The development of AI has been revolutionary and has impacted various fields, including healthcare, education, transportation, and entertainment, to name a few.
The release of OpenAI's chatbot, ChatGPT, last year, launched a race to develop more powerful AI systems. The chatbot is trained to mimic human conversation by absorbing massive amounts of text and generating responses to human users through patterns in data it learned. However, as AI continues to advance, some tech leaders and experts have publicly denounced its rapid evolution, with many critics concerned about how AI could surpass human intelligence.
Tesla's insights into the future were remarkable, and his predictions on the development of machines with their own minds were visionary. They foreshadowed the rise of AI, which has become an essential part of our daily lives. Tesla's ideas continue to be relevant even today and likely will be for decades to come.
Technomancer is a science and tech enthusiast who enjoys writing about software and AI and other tech topics.