These are some bold statements I’m making. And that’s because I’m a bit of a futurist (I have a wild imagination), so you don’t have to take me too seriously. I’d like to leave the vicissitudes of geopolitics and finance aside for now and introduce those of you that are unaware, of another revolution that is in the making, a technological one. Actually it’s only one of a few notable trends that will revolutionise the world in the near future. Notable ones worth mentioning here are Artificial Intelligence (AI), Quantum Computing, Space Exploration/Planetary Colonisation and Cryptocurrencies (Blockchain). This article will be focusing on AI, and in particular, wholesale robotism rather than integrated applications as such.
Before reading on, I advise you take a few moments to watch this very interesting video:
A Brief Primer on Artificial Intelligence
Yes, this is already happening in 2017. And while these robots still have a while to go before singularity, they are already manifesting “semi-conscious” behaviour. The way they work is not by being programmed rigidly with millions of hard coded rules about how to behave in certain situations (that would be impossible), but by being able to emulate the human mind in ways that simulate learning on the go, to (hopefully) become smarter with experience. Artificial Intelligence (AI) in this case is based on a technology called deep machine learning, a complex set of algorithms that model the robot’s behaviour by neural networks; in essence, modelling the learning curve like our own human brains. This is how they will be ultimately used to come up with solutions to problems, that we humans are unable to do so for a number of reasons. So for example, by feeding one robot with an enormous dataset that would otherwise take an entire team of humans to analyse, the robot would be able to quickly analyse the dataset with no coffee breaks, lapses in concentration or even needing any sleep. More importantly, it will sift through the data and find new patterns or solutions, and in the process make new neural networks (think precedents in common law), thus filling its problem-solving toolbox with a new algorithm to solve future problems. This multiplies out with time and the robot ‘grows’ in an intelligent manner. And it will be able to do this incredibly fast, much faster than humans. To say that the implications of this to society and humanity itself are enormous would be an understatement.
Tapping the Mind of God
And how exactly will it be able to do this when we can’t yet map human consciousness? This is where it gets interesting, because we inadvertently have done something quite close to that already. It’s called the Internet. The Internet is a neural network analogue of the collective consciousness of mankind. Let’s ponder deeper about this for a moment. We can think of the Internet as approaching the ultimate collective knowledge reservoir of humanity, something almost god-like in its breadth. Nobody knows as much as the Internet does. Ask Google almost anything, and you will have a good chance of receiving some semblance of a relatively accurate answer directing you to a relevant direction, thanks to intelligent search engine algorithms. As time progresses, this reservoir of knowledge will expand and questions that were once deemed unanswerable, will find answers. Ask the Internet a question, and it will respond to you. Ask the Internet for money, and it will fund you, whether by individual donation or pooled crowd-funding initiatives. It almost behaves as a conscious organism in itself. By connecting so many people together, the Internet is the ultimate marketplace, matching all sorts of supply with demand, made up by the sum of its constituent parts, – you and I.
Together we act as a collective consciousness, subject to the same humanly vicissitudes, only in digital form. Thus, the Internet is an extension of us all, and it necessarily follows that it is subject to the same motions as human psychology. These motions manifest as online movements, open-source projects, memes, forums, profiles, blogs, streaming services, cloud computing, peer-to-peer sharing, cyber hacks, games and so on. But the Internet also serves as the biggest inter-connected knowledge database in the world. This incredibly vast knowledge pool is able to be transmitted to any part of the world at the click of a mouse, at the speed to light, connecting people instantaneously and eliminating the space in between them. This medium is therefore able to make the world into a much smaller place. It essentially enables multitudes of parallel worlds to coexist in time. The general idea here is that the Internet acts as a nodal network in the same way that the brain behaves like a neural network. Individuals nodes (represented by devices representing individuals) act like neurons in a brain, firing (‘pinging’) to other neurons and so on. In this giant online network, each one of us become a microcosm of something much greater than our own individual minds, and the Internet itself manifests as the greater consciousness. Now imagine if a robot had instantaneous access to all of this, along with incredibly powerful computational power and self-regulating intelligence. Is it now so infeasible that these things could overtake us and revolutionise the way the world works? You bet they will. This is both incredibly scary and incredibly amazing at the same time.
The Chain of Embrace
As the super intelligent human nerds of Silicon Valley, venture capital and tech startups race towards streamlining AI in the hopes of making the world a better place and our lives easier, the inevitable potential for this new tool to be misused and exploited, like any other disruptive tool in history, stands as a very real possibility. The military is almost certainly not a bystander in this race, but an active participant in its development, even more likely to be a few orders of magnitude ahead of the race than Silicon Valley itself. The tragedy of mankind is that quite a lot (not all) of the most amazing and revolutionary technological breakthroughs humanity has ever witnessed, have started off as highly secretive military applications. Quite often, its only once the civilian world invents those same technologies that we become publicly aware of them. The Internet and modern data encryption standards are two such examples of technologies that were first invented by the military, before being invented by civilian science.
Then there is the ubiquitous corporatocracy of the business world, – the world which traditionally embraces technological shifts rather cautiously at first, before herding into them en masse, for self serving interests of course. It begins with a few brave, innovative companies that embrace the shifts, and establish themselves with a first mover advantage if successful. Once the risk premium of the new technology subsides, the rest follow through with mass adoption. What a lot of people don’t seem to understand is that Globalization as a movement began as a corporate venture first and foremost, – enabling corporations to tap into a global pool of cheap labour, side-stepping barriers to trade, encouraging finance to freely shuffle around the world and fostering expansive new economic arbitrage opportunities on a never-before-seen scale. Globalisation has served corporations extremely effectively by boosting profits, – and siphoning off money into tax havens and out of the hands of governments. Governments in turn have had to pick up the slack by burdening the middle classes. In a similar manner, AI will be embraced by the corporatocracy in a frenzy to cut costs (laying off human workers) in the hopes of further boosting corporate profits.
Then there are governments and politicians, the laggards of the changes. They get lobbied relentlessly by the corporatocracy to put their corporate interests ahead of the the electorate in queue, to which they succeed. The politicians in turn sell those ideas already being embraced by the corporatocracy, to the 99% in the hopes of convincing people that these shifts are all about benefiting them, when in actual fact they act to serve the 1% before everyone else. For Globalization, it was served to the masses as a movement to bring people closer together by getting rid of travel barriers in order to encourage immigration and free movement of people. Which in itself was mostly true, however, this was a far cry from the original intent, which was to serve corporate interests first. From the government’s perspective, the important thing is for them to collect their cut from the deal. Hence why they jumped onto the Globalism bandwagon. Up until the moment the peasants revolted, that is.
Implications for Humanity
With AI and web technology, the embrace will be piecemeal at first, and then widespread. We are past the piecemeal stage of web technology, – that was the 1990s until the mid 2000s. Web technology is now ubiquitous. AI is still in its infancy, however, we are on the cusp of tipping point. And while AI is being implemented mostly in an integrated manner rather than a fully autonomous manner across most industries, the full-on robots will come much sooner than most expect. When they do, humanity itself will undergo yet another revolution akin to that of the information revolution of the 1990s and the industrial revolution of the 1830s. The next revolution will fundamentally alter the human species, eventually splitting it. Computing technology and networks advance exponentially and parabolically, whereas the human mind progresses and thinks linearly and cyclically. Singularity for this reason will come sooner than we expect.
But before we get into that, let’s examine some implications and possible trends. Web technology coupled with integrated AI will begin by a whole host of applications, whether it be the automation of low skilled labour, algorithm trading, digital currencies, biometric chips, UAVs, drones, GPS, driverless cars, virtual reality or even teledildonics. Then the more autonomous and life-like robots will arise, – sex robots, robotic pets, robotic assistants, workers, carers, translators, lawyers and so on. At that point, humanity will begin to interact with integrated and autonomous technology on a daily basis, on a potentially mass scale. What this means is not only will our cognitive and learning capacities likely increase in order to keep up with it all, but we will also evolve into the technology itself. This is the path to cyborg-ism, where humans adopt robotic behaviour. Android-ism on the other hand, are life-life humanoid robots that adopt human behaviour. The feedback will thus go both ways – humans mimicking androids to become cyborgs, and robots mimicking humans to become androids. Both of these scenarios are commonly depicted in science fiction. The possibility of either becoming science fact stands very real, and the likely scenario would be androids preceding “cyborg” phenomena. Just think about it, – with all the ubiquitous robotics, people will bound to evolve in embracing and merging with the technology itself. People will begin to permanently wear tech gear, whether implanted or worn. People will become attached to their robotic pets, sex dolls, assistants and carers, and begin to mimic robotism. We will thus start to become cyborgs, fusing technology permanently with our organic bodies, and minds. But before we reach cyborg-ism, the singularity will already have dramatically shifted things. Already today, the web is crawling with bots, – we humans are having to distinguish ourselves from bots by way of captchas. Soon enough, the majority of financial market trading will be executed by automated algorithms.
Once the robots ‘overtake’ us in wholesale intellectual and processing capacity, some economic and moral questions will arise:
Will a superior AI reinforce feelings of human inferiority?
Will humans become more or less productive as AI takes over many jobs?
Will the prevalence of AI degrade or enhance social and physical human interaction?
Will wholesale automation render many humans ineffective and warrant the payment of ‘living wages’ instead? Will robotic labour be taxed?
How will human-robot interactions be defined and regulated by law?
Will there be any potential for human-robot hostilities?
How much science fiction could actually turn out to be science fact?
Will AI increase or decrease volatility on financial markets?
How will human-like robots impact our emotional brains and relationships? Will AI learn emotional intelligence? If so, how will that impact humanity, when some AI robots start behaving better than some humans? What if they become much “better” than a lot of humans?
Could humans start learning to become better humans from robots?
These questions will not only depend on how AI evolves and applies its intelligence, but also how humanity responds in turn. Thus, some very strong feedback loops will develop. We humans are reaching new heights in intellectual evolution, fast approaching a stage where we are proxying human-like intelligence in artificial form. I believe this could begin the splitting of the human species itself. The last speciation occurred about 6-7 million years ago when we split from our nearest genetic relatives – the chimpanzees, by coming down from the trees for the bipedal life. For one, those embracing cyborg-ism will begin to evolve much more differently than those who resist. The gap between the two groups will thus accelerate and widen to the point where they will behave and think very differently. Secondly, once space exploration and planetary colonisation kicks off, this will further add pressure for human speciation. Those of us who decide to leave Earth permanently and settle in space colonies, will split genetically from Earth-bound humans. We will become different sub-species of human, evolving under completely different environments. This will be something on the magnitude like our split with the chimps. And if you throw cyborg-ism into the mix, it will blur the boundaries even more. This all may seem like a joke right now, but with the rate at which technology and AI is advancing, it will most definitely attract a certain portion of humanity along with it. How widespread that may be is open to debate, but the genie is already out of the bottle. The majority of AI development is currently happening in the US and China.
Dystopia Could Be Evolution
To the tech nerds, the revolution in AI may seem like a Utopia. But to many others, it may seem Dystopian, and I personally think that much of it will be if we choose to outsource ourselves wholesale to robotism. This could just be the way things play out. Like Globalization was pushed for corporate interests first before being widely embraced, the revolution in AI will also be pushed by corporate interests first before being widely embraced, taking humanity in for the ride, along with all the consequences that come with it. Of course the intention never starts off bad, we want to make the world a better place and our lives easier. However, what we know from human psychology and history is that special interests tend to always hijack the narratives and technologies for narrow gains, at everyone else’s expense. This always has been the case, and will always be, until we evolve past sheepishness. Whether AI could change that remains to be seen.
The Earth is a giant organism, and we are the apex predator at the top of the food-chain. Our rising population and resource-intensive lifestyles are exhausting the resources of our planetary host. Technology and AI could help curb our resource usage in an intelligent manner, or it could accelerate them, prompting us to ultimately hop onto another host (planet). It depends all on us, collectively. We are already starting to play god with our incredible scientific capabilities. We are also approaching the singularity, where we are able to clone, mimic and apply our own intelligent behaviour to autonomous human-like robots that will eventually overtake us and potentially displace us and supplant much of our former utility. If the Earth has been our host for the last 7 million years, human life has become a virus and intelligence has become its most lethal mutation. AI could help us self-regulate in the process, or it could not. Being the apex predators on Earth and the relatively peaceful and quiet part of the foreseeable corner of our Galaxy means that we are alone and largely in charge of our own fate. Nature ultimately doesn’t care about who “wins”, whether it be the good or the bad sides of humanity. Nature just strives towards equilibrium, with a whole host of natural physical laws to guide such principles. We are all but subjects of her superior power. One thing is for sure however, – the greatest immediate threat to mankind, is mankind itself. Intelligent consciousness is so far a unique phenomenon.