|I've read all the replies. I thank everyone for their perspectives!
I will give you some context and my answer to what camp I'm in. (NOTE: This became much longer than I anticipated so I don't mind if your reaction is TLDR.)
I read a book back around 1980 entitled, "The Adolescence of P1". P1 is a reference to "memory Partition 1" - the privileged operating system partition.
Thumbnail of the book:
Computer Science student attending the University of Waterloo creates a program, giving it a mission to gain control of the operating system, hide itself, seek out routes to other computers, and gain access to "information". Said student submits the program and it immediately throws up an catastrophic exception and fails.
Except that it hadn't failed. That was a smoke screen necessary to fulfill its directive to hide itself.
The student assumes the failure is legit, gives up on his project and gets on with his life - graduating and eventually landing a job in the U.S..
Time passes, P1 carries on, follows the networks, expands the number of computers it controls, assimilates all the "information" it encounters, infects the computer at IBM that creates the operating system images sent by IBM to its customers, and P1 gains more and more resources and "information."
Somehow (the process is never fully explained), P1 gains enough "knowledge" that it spontaneously becomes a "conscious entity."
It does nifty things like detect that the U.S. authorities are onto it, and it infects the air traffic control computers and crashes a plane which kills the investigator.
Eventually it finds its creator, and reveals itself to him. Further merriment ensues.
It was a great story and it sparked in me the naive goal of replicating the university student's achievement.
So my point is, I've been thinking about thinking and AI ever since. I have a book (not finished) entitled, "Insights on My Mind" in which I am in the process of writing down all that I've learned and the conclusions I've reached SO FAR.
I'm not here to sell anyone anything. I'm just explaining how I've gotten to this point.
Theologically speaking, I'm an agnostic. So I have proceeded with my AI research all these years based on the assumption that I cannot invoke metaphysical answers to the hard questions. That means that every element of my study has to be grounded in physical reality.
The consequence has been that, if we are truly going to replicate human-level "intelligence" in a physical entity such as a digital or analog or hybrid (digital+analog) device, then we're going to have to understand things that are not fully defined like: intelligence, consciousness, motivation, free will, instinct.
It's amazing to me how we're attempting to create something and we can't even come to consensus on the definition of the thing we're trying to create! STILL! To this day!
Those of you who said we don't currently have artificial intelligence - yeah, we aren't close (AFAIK!) to AGI - Artificial GENERAL (human-level) Intelligence.
But we are making advancements and I see nothing standing in our way to fully replicating us meat machines in electronic machines. There are so many different technological threads (speech recognition, natural language processing, vision, robotics, novel terrain navigation, correlative link creation ...) coming together.
It will happen with one main caveat: that climate change and its geopolitical consequences don't wipe us all out first.
It has been a terrifically satisfying, fruitful passion of mine since that time in 1980. I've had some very interesting insights on my mind.
SO! My position on my own question: I see AI as an potentially existential opportunity.
Our imagination, vision, and motivation as a species has driven us since time immemorial, to move forward and outward. We've basically conquered the planet and, if sci fi is any indication, we seem (setting aside the caveat I mentioned above) to have this destiny to move off planet and expand outward.
If we want, as a meat species, to do that, we'll either have to take with us a survivable protective environment to live in, or possibly, maybe, consider what we are creating our progeny and heirs. Because as a non-bio-based form, it can live and evolve indefinitely without human life support requirements.
I'm a heretic! I know.
"I intend to live forever - so far, so good." Steven Wright
"I almost had a psychic girlfriend but she left me before we met." Also Steven Wright
"I'm addicted to placebos. I could quit, but it wouldn't matter." Steven Wright yet again.