Is the human species an out-of-control organism? And is that an excuse?


Let’s face it, the poor are an embarrassment. They’re usually unattractive, have bad hair and bad teeth, eat cheap food, tend toward obesity, wear shabby clothes, drive wretched cars—if they drive at all, and have too many kids. Nobody wants to be poor. And not only that, there are too many of them.

On the other hand, everyone wants to be wealthy. The wealthy have it all, including the tendency to marry into better genetics, generation after generation. The downside to wealth is that it breeds uncaring monsters. But comfortable ones, with good teeth and pretty spouses and nice houses and beautiful cars and interesting wine collections. Aside from not being able to recognize and nuance suffering in others, rich people are nearly perfect. Most people defer to them, so we all subconsciously acknowledge that this is true.

Personally, I’m satisfied with what I have, and if I had to choose between being wealthy or being poor, I’m not sure I would choose wealth. It’s all relative. In fact, studies on wealth and life satisfaction tell us that it isn’t the amount of wealth one possesses that determines satisfaction, it’s the level of equality you have in your local environment. Research says you’re not likely going to be happy living in a place that has a great disparity between the “haves” and “have nots”. That’s the trouble with being poor in a tony neighbourhood like Rothesay, New Brunswick, and the trouble with Rothesay being located so near the low-income city of Saint John—it’s all too unequal for true happiness.

Is the human species out of control? What would Elon say?

Irrespective of where they live, poor people can’t afford to buy Teslas. At least not yet. But the man who makes Teslas, Elon Musk, thinks about poverty. He sees technology fast replacing human labour, which is one of the reasons he supports a universal basic income. And last year he funded a $15 million XPrize competition to find revolutionary ways to teach literacy skills to the 260 million or so children on the planet who can’t read. Apparently, Google’s Pixel C computer tablets were involved.

Ironically, he views computers, and more specifically artificial intelligence (AI), as a threat to all life on earth. This past weekend he funded a free online viewing of the new AI scare documentary, Do You Trust This Computer. Tellingly, perhaps chillingly, the film opens with the Mary Shelley quote from Frankenstein: “You are my creator, but I am your master.”

The documentary takes us on a wild ride through the astonishingly rapid expansion of AI into our lives, from computers to robots to sex toys. In one segment a surgeon is shown teaching an AI robot how to perform a routine surgery. The segment ends with the surgeon confessing that now that the robot has taken over the task, he’s already forgetting how to perform the operation, and may soon become obsolete himself. But the real threat exposed in the documentary is the possibility that self-replicating, self-determining AI will soon be able to assume full consciousness, becoming a mechanical species capable of replacing, or at the very least, dominating humans.

Musk’s answer to this threat is Neuralink. It’s his newest brainchild (pun intended). The idea is to embed computer chips into the human brain, which would allow us to interact directly with AI, thereby retaining control over it, rather than the other way around. Um. Given the message in the movie, which is that AI can already evolve to think around these kinds of obstacles, I’m not so sure our friend Musk has his head on straight. What’s to prevent super-aggressive AI from taking over the chips in our heads—if this really is an evolutionary war shaping up as the movie suggests?

OK. So let’s take stock. Large corporations have already taken over our political systems to deregulate corporate activities. More wealth than every before is being extracted from people and the environment and delivered to a tiny group of super-wealthy individuals. Corporate growth depends on consumer spending, which is now financed by personal credit and debt. Ordinary people are getting poorer. The oceans are filling with plastic. Animal species are going extinct at an alarming rate. The earth’s climate is destabilizing. Resource wars are raging in the Middle East with millions of people displaced. And now out-of-control self-replicating AI.

Oh, and I should mention that AI is particularly good on the battlefield and on the streets. It’s almost as if the Terminator was a prophecy.

Additional reading:


  1. "Living on the East Coast of Canada a.k.a the Right Coast"...Not on topic, I realize, but I couldn't help but ask: when did THIS *the rightness" happen?? And, more on-topic, who predicted years ago that the computer-chip-inserted-under-the-skin-at-birth is the Next Big Thing?? C'est moi! No more SIN, no more licences...doors open automatically and your taxes are already computed for you...yup. Not quite the brain, more accessible....I think it will work. :)

    1. Don't know if you're recommending human chipping or not. We'd sure lose an entire, complex government employment engine if all licensing and tax processing disappeared. Not to mention the impact on financial sector jobs. What's coming clear is the need to start planning for a "post-job economy".


Post a Comment

Popular Posts