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Artificial Intelligence: One Way Trip?

by Richard on February 9, 2018

I recently read an absorbing novel (Turn or Burn by Boo Walker, see below) that established conflict based upon acceptance or rejection of what is referred to as a coming AI Singularity. The theory is that soon, Artificial Intelligence technology will evolve beyond the point where human intelligence can define it. That will force an event horizon moment when Homo Sapiens will either enter the next evolutionary phase, or perish. A one-way trip. Stephen Hawking, once famously spoke of his fear that the advent of Artificial Intelligence will herald the end of humanity.

While research into AI integration within the brain of human subjects is producing intriguing theories, even if it were physically possible, I would reject the larger implications. Especially that this would be an improvement. As we always have, our current society suffers from a belief in our own exceptionalism. We seem to believe that while we are genetically indistinguishable in the important parts of our genome with the earliest human beings; somehow, only the past five to ten thousand years of our learning, are worth noting. We feel that only during that time, which is also the recorded part of our history, we have evolved to the point that our creative technology… or tools… will give us a hand in our own evolutionary development. For the better.

I find it impossible to believe that out of the millions of years (the exact number grows with each now paleo discovery…) our species has been migrating world-wide, learning and adapting; that the past 200 years or so are the first and only time that technology has been discovered and refined. It’s almost as if we believe that at the start of the industrial revolution, our perceptions of the universe and our earth changed utterly, so that we could, for the very first time, control those forces which had eluded our control for all time before. I find that notion completely ridiculous.

I agree that there isn’t much written history of technology prior to 10,000 BCE or so, but all that proves is there is a remote chance that no one wrote anything before that. There is always the possibility that we became so enamored with our intelligence, our own exceptional nature, that we blundered into dangerous territory many times before now. It is as possible in my way of thinking, that since science is built upon observation of repeated cycles, that we have gotten much too big for our britches many times before and possibly destroyed civilization many times. One of the things that points to this, in my mind is that there are always pockets of what we consider uncivilized societies, lying outside the normal realm of commerce and tech. It’s almost as if they know something. That aligning themselves with the cycles of life and finding ways to live in harmony with the natural world works better than the alternative, in the long run. Maybe their ancient ancestors had done some things that these folks wanted to forget and never repeat.

The thousands of large-scale urban ruins now being revealed in Guatemalan jungles as well as in the central plains of Turkey, seem to reinforce my thinking here. Those societies were highly developed, there is no doubt of that. What technologies they utilized is still unclear, but what is clear is that for all their shining glory, those cities were left to be covered up by grasslands or trees and vines long, long before their histories were written and taught. Rather than the exception, we seem to be following our hubris along the same pathways traveled before. We need to learn that maybe we’re just not that special, and turn our energies and our technology towards keeping our planet a safe home for our future generations to enjoy. And, of course, explore the stars and build better tools. But I’d rather not see the tail wagging the dog.

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What do you think?

An enjoyable, fast-paced mystery read with some unusual conflicts…

  1. Richard, a fascinating read. Thank you for the mention. I remember a New Yorker cartoon involving a staircase depicting the stages of evolution. The bottom step has a less-evolved ape and the ape on each step becomes more and more human until halfway up when you get to the human. The rest of the stairs are empty. The caption reads: “Did you really think you were going to be on the last step?”

    Let’s hope our hubris tames itself before it’s too late!

    • I agree in spades, but I wonder if we’ll have the choice to demur? Seems as if we’ve made enough environmental intrusion that we’ve probably already begun to change via the whole mutation craps game. Of course, I also see the other side of the argument as expressed in U of O man of letters, Richard Brautigan’s great poem, Machines of Loving Grace. I like to keep my chisels sharp, but don’t want to forget and just reach into the tool drawer without looking, y’know?

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