Humans have survived thus far by being alert and adaptable. Through the arrival of each increasingly sophisticated form of communication, through exposées of false beliefs, discovery of the universe, scientific and technological advance, collectively we have weathered the winds of change, not without pain, not without loss but enough to be able to congratulate ourselves on navigating potential annihilation. All seven billion of us. So far.
The order of change is different this time. Control of the forces of change is slipping out of our hands. One agent of change, Artificial Intelligence, moves faster than we can, beats us first at chess, then at survival. In the more or less democratic world we have fashioned the majority must see, appreciate and understand what is happening if we are to control it. Unfortunately the majority do not. Even when they do we may have focused them too much on wealth as the purpose of being to check superpower AI. Are we already too late?
Mark Cuban wisely said “We are going through the process where software will automate software, automation will automate automation. I would not want to be a CPA right now. I would not want to be an accountant right now. I would rather be a philosophy major. Knowing how to critically think and assess them from a global perspective I think is going to be more valuable than what we see as exciting careers today, which might be programming or CPA or those types of things.”
The decisions we must now make have as much to do with slowing down progress as with speeding it up. Faster always seems better because it gives the illusion of better use of time. In many spheres faster allows more time for enjoyment by minimising the time we must spend on drudgery. But our definitions of both have led us to seek hedonistic, transient, selfish, ‘buzz’ thrills at the expense of creating for others, fashioning our own characters and developing a culture of civilisation. Our definitions of work and play need revising.
Much time has been spent on demonstrating our similarity to animals. Not to the point where we think we are indistinguishable, if only because of the sheer quantum leap we have made from our primate ancestors. More time needs to be spent on examining the differences rather than the similarities. Animals are sentient; human beings can be, and are, a different order of sensitivity, manifest in our ability to appreciate, to love and to sacrifice.
Assuming that we have our priorities wrong and wealth is not the prime purpose of life what then must we do to avoid the elimination of our species by one that exists only to be rich? Culture change takes a long time, we are told, maybe as many as three generations, two certainly. Humans will disappear in their present form long before the start of the second generation if the speed of automation continues and accelerates as predicted. Before it overtakes us we need a majority of wise people to call a halt or it will be too late.
Over the last 100 years our education systems have leant towards science more than philosophy. To redress that we need a major and probably statutory push towards clear, philosophical thought as a criterion for determining the species’ best interests. It is an aspiration as great as ‘United Nations’. Let us hope that it will have even more and swifter success than that admirable institution.
It won’t even get off the ground unless you and I embrace it assertively.
Shall we start to do that today?