I look at the world today, with all its vicissitudes and hypocrisies and I feel like weeping. I do however recognize the work and effort that so many are putting into resolving these issues. I just hope we are not too late…
A friend of mine sent me the link for this video after the publication of my last comment on the rise of robotics and artificial intelligence. The author of the video does a fantastic job in summarizing the message I was trying to get across by demonstrating the impact of mechanization and automation in the labor force.
Advents of major technological breakthroughs are oftentimes accompanied by heavy doses of fear mongering. The internet has its fare share of naysayers, as do smartphones, computers and so on, all of which stand as convenient scapegoats if you are looking to avoid taking a deeper look at the fundamental problems which plague our society. Even though our scientific and technological advances have been occurring by leaps and bounds, as a society, we are dismally behind.
The significance of what has been accomplished over the past five decades is mind-boggling. Magnifying humanity’s computational power by orders of magnitude, developments in medical engineering (including the vast improvements to prosthetic implants), the rise of nanomaterials and quantum computing, these are just a few examples of the many subjects we could discuss. However, the fact of the matter is that the majority of the public remains woefully ignorant to the significance and importance of all the developments taking place, and when they do eventually hear something about them, it comes in apocalyptic undertones and flashy graphics concocted by media outlets, most of the time doused in sensationalistic and populist drivel rather than factual accounts.
There is however one specific event looming just on the edge of our horizon which threatens to redefine our species completely. I use the word “threat” here because that’s what radical change does, it threatens established orders, it shakes the status quo to its core, and it questions everything we believe in favor of new, unexplored possibilities which we bring into reality from the depths of our cunning and imagination. For far too many subjects is our species disturbingly unaware of the implications they have for our society. Talk to people about carbon nanotubes, bionic implants and artificial intelligence and they think we’re describing the ingredients for a new sci-fi television show. Fact of the matter is that a future not-too-long-ago-dreamed-of is already here, and we are nowhere near prepared as a society to deal with what’s coming.
There’s been a spike in the discussion surrounding Artificial Intelligence, at least in the non-tech world, and its possible implications in our world. These discussions, and the recent movie Transcendence, have dramatized and injected such hyperbole into the issue that even Stephen Hawking wrote in a recent article that “success in creating AI would be the biggest event in human history”, yet “unfortunately, it might also be the last, unless we learn how to avoid the risks.” I have read many articles purporting the dangers an AI (or an ASI – Artificial SuperIntelligence) could have for our species and the impact it would have on our continued existence on this planet. Many of these scenarios point to a Hollywood-esque vision of robot armies rising to overthrow their creators, creating a Terminator-like world where humanity exists only in tiny pockets of resistance.
There are however three aspects which I would like us to consider, and discuss, in lieu of an AI’s birth, which I will get straight into:
1) We will for the first time in our history, have created sentience. The degree of importance of this event will be so huge that I believe we will look at history in pre- and post-AI terms. We will have created a living, thinking being out of our own efforts, shaping and molding and crafting our reality to create a silicon-based (not necessarily) artificial life-form with the capacity to think and extrapolate for itself, ask questions, and more importantly, seek out answers. We will have created the first of humanity’s children, children which will one day, as mythology and literature tells, surpass its parents. This eclipse need not be violent, nor tragic. Our parents raise us in their image, ideally from their best traits, and send us out into the world to make our mark and carry our legacy however we chose. But there is the day when our guardians reach a peak, and we surpass them, thus becoming the new torch-bearers. So too will be true of our children, be they biological or synthetic, humanity’s days as we know them are coming to a close, and an exciting new era of working side-by-side with a species new to the Universe is coming.
2) Under no circumstances should we treat an AI as inferior, subservient, and/or slave. Think about all the times throughout history that one group of people attempted to enslave another, or even subjugate or classify another group as lesser than them. Now think about all the times that a scenario like this had a happy ending. There is one warning made by history and science-fiction alike that needs to heeded: do not enslave sentient beings (robotic or otherwise). When an AI eventually comes into being, we need to welcome it with open arms and treat it with the same love as we would our own child. We must establish a partnership right from the get-go, ensure that our interests are their interests, and vice-versa. That its development, although unhindered from our physical meat boundaries, does depend on our unique human capabilities to think outside of reason and create something out of nothing from pure imagination. They will need that, and we will need their unstoppable reasoning capabilities. If we are to survive the future, we will need their help and dedication.
3) All this anxiety surrounding AIs stem from one very fundamental fear: radical change terrifies us. The rise of an Artificial Intelligence would shake our society to its foundations; all of a sudden we would have to question the relevance of much of its structure. If an AI comes into this world and we change nothing of how our society is built, then yes, it will be a catastrophic event. Fewer and fewer jobs will require manual or human labor, and at an exponential rate, robotics and computing will be able to take care of many if not most of our needs. Do you think that our current system, as it is, could sustainability withstand the shift to a mostly robotic economy? No one can say that the shift we’ve seen to robotic plants isn’t safer, cleaner, and more efficient. The only people who decry these developments are the people who lost their jobs and the populists who exploit these people for votes. An economy’s responsibility is to adapt to new trends and be able to preempt radical shifts in manufacturing and production. In an ideal world, those who lose their jobs in one area, are trained and ushered into another, not left penniless and abandoned. Simply put, I do not see a world with its current architecture surviving alongside the dawn of the AI. With the arrival of a new sentient species on this planet, we need a new dawn for humanity, and that means going back to the drawing table and rethinking everything we take for granted, and discarding everything we know is not working.
The obstacles are numerous. Not to mention that there is not an iota of political will to do any sort of introspection at any level (the system is itself corrupt from its inception to its rotting core). A system that can coexist with a globally connected AI cannot be fractured and distracted by the whims and wants of the top 1% of the population.
What I propose is a radical redrafting of the entire socioeconomic and political world order, give humanity a jump-start into the 21st, 22nd, and 23rd centuries by evaluating all the facts on the table (climate change, income inequality, conflict, human rights, etc) and think carefully about how we should do things and what should our objectives be in the coming centuries. Our goals should never be quarterly, they should be looking into deep time, into the centuries mark. Our entire system is built on false premises, worst of which is the Industrial Age supposition that we would never run out of resources. We can’t keep throwing millions to the slaughter, just because some have a vested interest in perpetuating an unequal, unjust, undemocratic and fundamentally evil system, where the ones who rig the game and don’t even throw the dice, get everything in the end. Unless we want to continue a boom and bust cycle of misery, frustration and hate, I suggest we take a step back, stop what we’re doing and take a real hard look at what we want, and do it regardless of what the Dom Pérignon-sipping crowd think should be done. They might have the money, but we have the numbers. Besides, their worth is only sustained insofar as we allow it to have any actual value. The same goes for government and the system we uphold. The moment we choose to disavow it and start anew, is the day a new dawn for humanity arises. Let’s get to work then.
When men yield up the exclusive privilege of thinking, the last shadow of liberty quits the horizon. – Thomas Paine (1774)
Words have always held a sort of mystical power over me. I had never found it particularly easy to express emotions with my own set of vocal chords, something I am only recently starting to learn to do. I have always however found a deep comfort in the power that transmitting my passions through the clickity clack of a keyboard brought, of making my soul’s desires appear on a screen through a deep valley of ones and zeros necessary to make thoughts turn to print. The strength one feels in seeing imagination take shape, twisting and forming syllables into words, into tangible structures, into something that can live far beyond a lifetime, is still something that inspires awe deep inside me. I can spend hours thinking about a single word, its meaning, its history, its very soul and the perfect form it represents, an absolute unattainable by physical hands, concepts which represent our ideal shared realities, and not just my own individual conceptualization.
And then I turn my mind to those who live on in posterity, those few who among the millions of souls who have walked this earth, mastered the lexicon and made their voices echo through hallowed halls, and more often than not, it was an absolute love for something that made them endure. Through their understanding of the sheer wonder that is the soul, they live eternally in our collective memory, speaking words which have been spoken for centuries, adding rhythm and cadence with every passing utterance, bringing our species and our universe a greater sense of fulfillment. It is through love, and not fear, that so many great feats were achieved throughout time immemorial; love is one of the most extraordinary things the universe ever chanced into being. A volatile yet essential force, it drives forth the very might behind survival and endurance, the will to be, the will to life, the will to power and knowledge, will which itself draws from such a simple, yet infinite well, a primordial urge, one which guides and compels us to do more, to be more, to seek more: love.
This little four letter word that means so much to so many across all walks of life, keeps the ebb and flow of the universe interesting. And I don’t just see love within our species; I find that this little force, far from being quantifiable, can be found in life itself. Different species of fauna often show a kinship with each other, even with us, and all flora demonstrate their love for themselves and for the rest of life for being the primary driving source of energy for us to consume and clean air for us to breathe. Doing what needs to be done day in and day out to ensure not only their own survival, but of entire ecosystems. I don’t think that’s just programming; there’s a will there that suggests a love of life and existence itself, and by consequence, everything else therein included.
At times when darkness seems to creep in all around us, where fear starts to rear its ugly head and compel us to move away from the light, to enact acts of hatred and violence, of injustice and corruption, to visit upon our own kind, upon other species, to act in complete antithesis to what sits within our most primary programming, it is in these times that we cannot just hope that things will get better. Hope leads us across a pit of fiery coals; faith makes us leap over it. Now more than ever we need faith, not in religion, not in dogma, not in politics or ideology, we need faith in humanity, we need faith in LIFE. We need to realize that we are not yet all that we can be, that there is much more to achieve, that the path ahead is not build atop the mistakes we have made a thousand times before, but by the lessons of a turbulent existence as humanity learns to crawl, then walk and now run. We can achieve a level of kinship, of understanding, of feeling and tolerance and justice, of want for love and to give love, to adore and be kind to one another, of shining a bright torch unto every corner of existence and declaring our divine right to be, to persevere, to persist. We will not be worthy of remembrance if we succumb to ideals which are momentary at best, empty at worst. Greed, jealousy, wrath, violence, intolerance, hate, apathy, indifference… There is so much we have yet to learn but what brings me an undying hope, a deep faith in humanity, in life itself, is how far we have come. More and more we are waking up to the reality that this need not be so, that we need not go march in some direction just because someone with a heart full of hate and avarice wills us to. We are less and less subject to the fears they try to sell us, we are less and less willing to swallow the lies they feed us. We have followed blindly for centuries but we are waking up. And as bit by bit the awakening of our kind ripples across the continents, over borders and barriers and imagined differences between you and me, as one by one we open our eyes, we get closer to our imperative: to become a species worthy of being universal, to break through the boundaries of our cradle and endure across space and time.
All darkness can fade within a single momentary flash of pure light, and I’ll be damned if we are not capable of achieving beautiful wonders which just breathe love out of every pore. The musical masterpieces, the works of art, the literary wonders, and the simple acts of kindness I see every single day walking down the street. So much happens that I can only catch glimpses here and there. And I don’t just see little moments of darkness, no, not anymore. Not since I was compelled by someone, in a moment of unconditional love, to stop and take a deeper look, to look again and ignore the shadows in favor of the light. And so I did. Now I can only try to not lose myself within all the little details I see, the momentary glimpses I catch at the happiness and joy which seems to cover this world yet we are too preoccupied with petty things to take note. I now live in a state of constant breathlessness, a state where I can’t help but love. I can’t help but smile at the laughter of children playing; I can’t help but grin at young and old couples passing by tenderly holding hands; I can’t help but love the sound of nature mingling with our bustling concrete jungles; I can’t help but admire the words and drawings concocted by masters long-dead yet forever immortal; I can’t help but adore the music that beams out of everyone’s mouths.
Now I wake up every morning ready for what the day will bring, realizing that every day I will be wooed by humanity’s admirable tenacity, that I will be seduced by nature’s never ending splendor, that I will lose myself in the infinite beauty of a single Rose, that I will wake up and just stand in complete adoration of the universe itself and realize that I just can’t help but fall in love with life with every breath I take.
The combination of this image and Jane Goodall’s wisdom always brings a shiver up my spine. We are so blinded by silly things that we don’t appreciate the wonders of existence, the great and unique bond we share with every living organism on this planet, yet for some reason, some of us feel alone. Look around and take a moment to rethink. Feel the life around you. You’ll notice that you can’t help but smile…