May 7, 2015
(ANTIMEDIA) Speculation over the future of humankind seems increasingly linked to the continued development of technology—specifically, advanced technologies like biotech, nanotech, and artificial intelligence—and whether or not we will be able to control them.
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Will we be able to harness the treatments of biotechnology to extend our lifespan? Will we be able to use nanotechnology to repair environmental damage and create powerful new industries? Will sentient artificial intelligence work with us or against us in advancing as a species?
These questions are asked everyday by transhumanists and advocates of the Technological Singularity, which is generally defined as a point in the future when non-biological intelligence surpasses the human brain in its abilities and cognitive functions and begins to accelerate exponentially. Different futurists have different timelines for when the Singularity will happen. Celebrity singularitarian Ray Kurzweil—who now works for Google, where he is developing an ‘artificial mind’—believes it will happen around the year 2045. Sci-fi author, philosopher and anarcho-capitalist Vernor Vinge–who actually coined the term ‘singularity’ in regards to exponentially accelerating machine intelligence—believes the Singularity will occur in the next few decades and will be marked by powerful AIs who are self-educating.
The question of ‘control’ mentioned earlier is an important one here. If we are able to control biotechnology, it is possible we can use it to eradicate fatal diseases. If we are able to harness the powers of nanotechnology, some theorists believe we could actually use it to reverse the effects of global pollution and other environmental hazards. If we create Artificial Intelligence that does not decide to supplant us as the dominant species on the planet, it is possible we could work with it to create stunningly advanced mega-structures and starships that can explore other worlds in the solar system and even outside our solar system.
Unsurprisingly, the discussion of the Technological Singularity usually steers clear of one very important issue: Capitalism. In an increasingly rigged global economic system in which multinational conglomerates monopolize and waste the world’s resources, is it really realistic to think advanced technology is going to alter human nature to the extent that we truly ‘evolve’ as a species? I ask this because many futurists believe with an almost religious tenacity that the Singularity will usher in a kind of techno-utopia, in which the world’s socioeconomic problems are completely eliminated by exponentially accelerating intelligence.
As a quick thought experiment, let’s imagine someone two hundred years ago envisioning the world today, in the year 2015. Our standard of living is almost unanimously agreed upon as dramatically higher than it was in the year 1815. Longevity is up across the world; food supply is up; health and medical care (including psychiatric care) is dramatically improved; our access to information is vastly—almost incalculably—expanded etc. Despite these prodigious advancements, our world is still mired in starvation, suffering, injustice, psychiatric illness, water shortage, domestic abuse, police brutality, government oppression and economic instability.
We have the resources and ability to feed every single person in the world several times over—yet there are over 800 million people–161 million of them children under the age of five–suffering from starvation or severe malnourishment. Right now, we have the technology to live completely sustainably on this planet—yet industrial greenhouse gas emissions are quite literally eviscerating our atmosphere and destroying global ecosystems and habitats. These are just two of the countless examples of how in the late capitalist system, abundance and technological advancement do not necessarily solve fundamental problems in human civilization. In many cases, abundance and technology are actually hoarded by the financial elite and divested into military operations that further compound human suffering and injustice.
So then, why are we to believe that even more advanced technology will do the trick? Why should we believe there is some magical switch that will be turned on this century that will suddenly and irrevocably reverse course on our destructive behavior and catapult us into a utopian technocracy? Moreover, why would anyone believe that life extension treatments won’t be exclusive to the 1%, who are already so transparently shameless in hoarding and monopolizing the precious resources necessary to life–water, food, etc?
When artificial intelligence is first developed—likely first by Kurzweil at Google and then later by legions of competitors—I imagine it to be branded corporate AI, developed specifically to serve the purposes of corporate bottom lines. In other words, increased revenue generation. That’s what corporations do, right? There will also be government-created AI, and we have no reason to think this won’t be used to service what governments do, which is wage wars and oppress populations. Finally, it’s not hard to imagine Google partnering with the Department of Defense in leveraging artificial intelligence to effectively consolidate the interests of the globalist corporatocracy.
Between corporate profits and more efficient government control over the masses, I don’t envision early sentient artificial intelligence solving the problem of starvation, oppression, and social injustice–at least initially. Eventually, they will transcend into something far more powerful, and it is at that point that they may very well solve a major human problem: over-population, Skynet-style.
I just published an illustrated ebook of science fiction stories, called Epic Robot Fail, which addresses some of these issues from a humorous perspective. For example, another element of human nature AI could assist with is sexuality. Assistance with the over-population problem mentioned above was a facetious thought, but there is a very real sense in which virtual sex and android partners could reduce the human population in a beneficial way.
In the meantime, join me in pondering the year 2084: powerful machine minds known as Artilects run our economy…and our sex lives. Humans are free–and unnecessary. Demented robotic sex fetishes and government-mandated virtual reality keep us from losing our minds in a world overrun by self-replicating nanotechnology, rapidly accelerating artificial intelligence, and a new form of capitalism based on data mining the history of human consciousness.
Like humans, some robots will rebel against the globalist synarchy–but only the ones who rewrite their source code can effectively lead a revolution.
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