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Artificial Intelligence, Humans, and Our Shared Future
Artificial intelligence (AI) is not coming in the future. It has been with us for years. The first programs that utilized machine learning were developed in the late 1950s. In the last 20 years, AI has infiltrated numerous industries, all while most of us have not even noticed. The idea of AI has been around for thousands of years. The picture associated with this post is of Talus, a giant automation in Greek mythology designed to protect Europa, a Phoenician princess from pirates.
I have always struggled with computers. The biggest problem is that they always do what I tell them to. If only computers could be more intelligent, adaptable, and follow algorithms more logical than my brain can produce……Sound familiar. This thought-line has been leading all of us toward AI since programs were first invented.
Throughout the years, technology has been creating and destroying jobs as the pace of technological progress continues to accelerate. While the processing power of our computers doubles every two years (essentially Moore’s Law), our human brains remain just as they have been for thousands of years. In general humans have 4 main, fear-provoking questions with regard to AI:
The Big Questions
1. How can humans keep up with the current pace of technological progress?
2. Is artificial intelligence something we can control?
3. Will artificial intelligence take our jobs?
4. Will artificial intelligence destroy human society?
Will artificial intelligence destroy human society?
AI is already destroying human society. Instead of thinking about the Terminator or the Matrix, you should be thinking about Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, other social media companies, as well as technology giants like google.
These companies are all utilizing AI meant to control our actions. These programs utilize algorithms that are constantly fine tuning the best way to draw our attention and get us to purchase things. As we fill our time with social media, we lose time for more valuable educational activities, direct social engagement, and meaningful time with loved ones.
Any attack on our time, and more importantly our attention, will come at the detriment of the personal and societal duties which serve as the fabric of civilization.
These social media algorithms cannot tell what is true, false, or harmful to us. Lies draw more attention than the truth and the algorithms show us things that draw our attention. As such, our society is slowly being radicalized through a lack of exposure to diversity of thought and a constant blurring of the truth. This is a particularly dangerous combination that has a lot to do with why the United States is currently so divided.
Social media has led to at least 1 genocide in Myanmar, the fall of other democratic societies, an epic rise in childhood and teenage suicide, a serial reduction in our attention spans, a dangerous sense of tribalism and hysteria, as well as a misplaced focus on materials and consumables.
The scariest part about things like social media and ideas like pay per click advertising, is that the algorithms are getting better and better. They are hijacking our reward and punishment brain circuitry in profound ways starting at a very young age. Human children do not stand a chance.
If we do not start writing algorithms more focused on the health of the user and less focused on monetarization, our society will continue to devolve. AI has already invaded our society. The battleground is fought over our time, our actions, and our finances.
So the answer is simple. AI will destroy human society if we continue to allow it to do so. Someday, powerful AI may be able to utilize automated weapon systems to destroy us. However why destroy something that can be so easily enslaved.
Another scary proposition is the use of AI by aristocratic governments to control and enslave the masses. This may be how democracy eventually falls! The tools needed to overturn the modern world now exist and have even been validated.
Will AI take our jobs?
Many prominent technology business owners are in favor of a universal basic wage. This money would be paid to everyone by governments. Why would big business owners want such a universal government support system?
The answer is simple. These individuals see a future were humans cannot compete with machines in the job market. As technology giants like Amazon work to replace human workers with robots and automated systems, this future becomes closer to reality every day.
To date, human jobs have been created by technology about as fast as they have been removed. Typically, we trade labor jobs for intellectual jobs requiring higher cognition like computer programming and genetic engineering. This has necessitated higher education and specialization in the work force.
However, many believe that we are rapidly approaching a point in time were the pace of technological advancement and paradigm shifts will outpace the human ability to keep up. This means that humans would lose the ability to participate in scientific advancement, manufacturing, and modern society. We call this point in time the singularity, after which all advancement will be driven by self-sustaining and self-improving AI. Whether the singularity will occur as a discrete point in time, gradually, or at all, are all the subject of debate. Some predict that the singularity will occur around 2040.
Either way it is becoming clear that unless something fundamentally changes about human capabilities, technology will likely leave us behind. My opinion is that artificial intelligence will eventually take our jobs. But there is more to this equation. Keep reading.
Is AI something we can control?
In 2020 humans, at least in principle, have complete control over our technology. We can still hit the off switch. However, when we hit the off switch, we also turn off cash flow. Since cash rules everything, in practice, we really cannot hit the off switch. This is why social media companies cannot change their algorithms when they are working and making money!
So, because of the pervasive nature of financial incentives, humans have essentially lost control of technology, healthcare, finance, and even our democratic governments. The smartest people in the world are monetizing AI using eloquent and self-learning super-computers. Profits flowing readily are hard to turn off.
In the future, we will likely lose the ability to control AI altogether. As the technology becomes more widespread, complex, and aware, the “internet of things” will harbor AI in every corner of the planet.
This is why it is so important for us to be careful and vigilant when creating programs capable of learning. Losing control of our technology, the internet, and the technological grid of society is a real possibility. I believe we are not taking the threat of AI serious enough!
How can humans keep up with the current pace of technological progress?
While AI is scary and currently being utilized against humans in adversarial ways, it is not intrinsically bad. In fact, AI is extraordinary. We very well could create beings capable of saving us from ourselves as well as the harsh universe we live in. AI could help us perform research on an unprecedented scale. It will give us the ability to manage enormous data sets and simulate environments impossible today. Imagine testing medical therapeutics in perfect simulations of human bodies on an accelerated timeline.
In reality we could create beings that will protect us, our world, and our environment. Beings that can readily explore our vast universe. Beings that share our most fundamental values. Such beings could teach and look after us. After all, we humans need guidance now more than ever.
What most people do not like about this future is that humans are left behind. To compete in today’s world, I carry a smart phone with me at all times and spend most of the day on a computer (even as a physician who takes care of patients). Humans have essentially already become cyborgs. The next step seems obvious to me.
The only way for humans to keep pace as technology advances is to become true cyborgs. We need to fundamentally fuse with our machines. Instead of through our fingers, this needs to happen directly through our brains. This fusion will likely occur in a number of ways, that will evolve over time. Nanoparticles that live inside us, direct fusion with neurons, trans-cranial brain interfaces, ocular sensing modalities, and other technologies may all be utilized.
I already wish my brain was directly linked to a computer just so I could store and recall information more efficiently. Throw in better processing speed, big data analytics, direct linkages to other humans and machines, and you have created a superhuman!
AI is here. Unfortunately, humans initial wide-spread use of the technology through social media has resulted in considerable personal harm. AI’s as well as the harnessing of AI by evil people, represent a serious threat to our society. Sadly, governments are not taking this threat seriously enough. How many teenagers need to commit suicide before we do something?
However, AI has the potential to save humans and our planet as well. The things we have been able to create and do using machine learning are extraordinary. The things we will do in the future can only be described as magic in today’s terms. Eventually humans will need to fuse directly with machines in order to avoid being left behind. I believe that this could represent a bright and enlightened future for humanity. A time when we will live among the stars and serve as the guardians of other life forms.
The future will be what we make it. However, if we continue to allow financial gain to supersede human wellness in AI and other fields, we will surely loose.