“…the best or worst thing ever to happen to humanity…”

“…the best or worst thing ever to happen to humanity…”

Stephen Hawking

Ability to adapt is the reason the human race has developed ahead of other life species. For most of its history humanity has been able to change slowly. The pace has increased from somewhat lugubrious to hysterically frenetic in just my lifetime. Now it is in danger of getting so out of control that we may destroy ourselves and the planet. Stephen Hawking recognised this when he was launching the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence in 2016. He said “..the rise of powerful Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be either the best, or the worst thing, ever to happen to humanity”. 

Who is going to decide which it shall be? Technology itself is neutral but how it is used is shortly going to determine the future of humanity. Stopping development of it for fear of a possible worst impact is neither sensible nor credible. If what we are inventing begins to think better than we do, what becomes of us?

All change is the result of assumptions – forecasts we make about what will happen if we do and what are the consequences if we don’t. Every decision we make tells of our ability – or lack of it – to forecast correctly. When life was slower we forecast only after pondering carefully about the prediction we were going to make. As communications and transport got faster life speeded up and thinking time reduced. Decisions must now be made so quickly that, progressively, only AI can comprehend the basis for many of them. Soon decisions may be made only by AI.

All of us are on the path of ‘faster, with less human error’. It is an obvious way to go. We won’t need to think so much, will require less discipline to make our lives comfortable and can work shorter hours. Dangerous activities will become free of human error. The half-hour working week may seem absurd but that is where we are heading. We are doing so with very little thought about what life is for and how we can make it happier. ‘Time off’ is seen as good; ‘ work time’ is thought to be less good. 

Techniques of living are overtaking the question: “What will make us perfectly happy?”

Because our relaxation and revitalisation have been seen – and taught – to be ‘other than working’ we have come to believe we should avoid mental and physical effort that contribute to financing our, or anyone else’s, income and sustainability. We must exercise both our bodies and our minds, so we create gyms and games to slow our decline into sloth. We replace ‘less enjoyable’ work with what we think is more enjoyable play. Is that a good thing? Maybe. Would we lose some of humanity’s personality? Maybe. If we did, would it matter? Maybe.  

Humans developed originally by being philosophical creatures, capable of reason and of creating beauty and peace. If we divert these abilities, what will we become? Will our abilities to appreciate, to savour, to enjoy and to invent disappear? So important are these questions that Terrific Mentors International is holding a Drink & Think online webinar discussion on the subject “How far should AI be allowed to go?” on 13th April 2023 at 6 to 8 pm Singapore time. You might like to make a note in your diary of the date. We will issue an invitation nearer the time.

We cannot see any limit to the reach of Artificial Intelligence at present.

Are we happy for it to take us over?

Good morning

John Bittleston


Your views, even at this early stage of AI, will be greatly welcome and might, if you permit, form part of the 13Apr23 Drink & Think discussion. Please reach us at mentors@terrificmentors.com

17 February 2023