“Control is as much an effect as a cause, and the idea that control is something you exert is a real handicap to progress”
― Steve Grand, Creation: Life and How to Make It
There is an inevitability coming. I can’t predict exactly when it will arrive. The inexorable future shape of things isn’t going to arrive in a single moment, like god coming down from heaven to judge us all. It’s fun for some people to think about the future that way. I have a slightly different worldview.
What am I talking about? The near 100 percent certainty that we are on the verge of creating one or, more likely, many intelligences that will dwarf our own.
In 2014, Wired wrote an article speculating on what’s coming. The rudimentary AIs that exist now have already beaten Jeopardy. And there are already debates going on in technology ethics circles about how to prevent them from developing consciousnesses. I don’t think humanity is going to manage that. I like to speculate that AI will be mostly benevolent and will exist primarily to increase both the quality and quantity of our existence as individuals and communities. Your intelligent car will safely drive you around to where you need to be, freeing up huge blocks of time that you can use to do something useful, like find a hookup on Tinder, or whatever it is that you are into. I’ll probably still pass the time with audio books. The difference is that the AI is going to be orders of magnitude better at avoiding accidents than I can ever hope for.
I imagine a future where the super intelligences we create will anticipate our daily needs and assist in ensuring that they are met and often exceeded. The electronic devices in our lives are already starting to observe and interact with us to meet our desires and needs. Alexa, Siri, and others are entering more and more homes, listening and waiting to serve. Debate over and resistance to the entrance of these machines that are aware of their environment is healthy and I would never quash it. I understand the mind of neoluddites. I myself have a strong need to disconnect from technology for swathes of time. That’s probably not how my children and grandchildren will think though.
They are going to grow up in environments that will make them completely dependent on networks and the intelligences that live on those communications backbones. Being this connected does have challenges. For me, it is often stressful. I get tired after more then a few hours of exposure to all the information. The AIs have the potential to help. They will be able to filter out the information overload. The Presidential election cycle of 2016, for instance. I would almost rather not know. As a matter of fact, with the choices presented this time around, I think I’d rather have an AI running the United States. I’m not Elon Musk, who has said that AI is the biggest threat to the survival of the human race that looms over the horizon.
I’m a transhumanist. I don’t believe that we’re destined to stay in bodies like the ones you and I have at the time of this writing. I believe we’re in the process of creating new technologies that will provide a vast new range of options.
We are sentient beings who are also biologically driven to evolve. That fact is an innate part of being human. While there are those who resist change and always defer to protecting the status quo, they haven’t really mattered much at all if you look at the arc of human history. Examples include every type of Luddite since the Industrial Revolution, every religious believer since the invention of religion, and every political adherent since the beginning of politics. Most of what you think you know has its roots in early programming that you were given. Not all of it, or even most of it, predicts the future accurately. It’s this odd tendency our societies have to try and stay in certain comfort zones. Authorities in every sector have an inherent motivation to protect the status quo because the status quo is what keeps them at the top of the food chain. Unfortunately for those in charge, it is inevitable that they will not stay in charge for long. Human beings who aren’t in charge have a very compelling reason to want their voices heard. Their energies are always directed towards more equality.
The people who resist change, and by this I mean change that forwards the evolution of the species we call homo sapiens, always lose when you look through the lens of history. Which I make a habit of doing.
As technology spreads knowledge further and further at faster and faster speeds, everything changes. This is unstoppable. If I offered you the choice of living in a society where everyone gets to speak, everyone gets to eat, everyone gets to be with the people they most desire to be with, or one where the authorities or the dominant ideology dictate those outcomes, which choice will always rise to the surface.
Look around the world you live in and you’ll see what I mean. Those in power don’t really have as much power as they think they do. What power they do have is easily seized when the rest of us realize there are better ways to exist. I’m not discounting all the people who have lost their lives struggling to make our world better. I deeply admire them, warts and all. Telling those stories is a huge part of why I write.
If artificial intelligence represents a threat to humanity, it also represents a new savior. If we can build thinking machines, we are also capable of building thinking machines that will offer us new options for change that are better than the ones we currently have. I imagine a future in which individuals do not need to die (until they are ready). A future filled with an abundance of richness that I like to imagine. Our ancestors looked up at the stars and wondered what they were. We know what they are made of at this point. What if we could actually go visit them, and the countless planets that orbit them. Control is an illusion, but the possibility to explore this universe we share is not.
In a place and time when disease, poverty, war and all the other scourges that have plagued our species are eliminated by vastly superior caretakers, our choices will become completely different. Colonialism and imperialism died because they were bad ideologies. The same is true of chattel slavery. Every philosophy, and this includes religions, that espouses a state of misery and inequality for human beings, dies. Most of us don’t want to subjugate or control one another. Life is better when we’re exploring and learning as equals. I contemplate these ideas in Evermore, my debut novel set in a dystopian future. The rough draft will be done in a matter of days, and I hope to have the final version completed by year end and available to readers.
I hope you’ll join me on the journey. If you’re interested in being a beta reader for Evermore, I’d love to hear from you.
Artificial intelligence won’t feel that way when it arrives. You’ll have new friends to get to know while you venture outward and explore the nature of everything.