The crisis of who

The crisis of who

The rapid pace of artificial intelligence development has precipitated crises of truth, of fact, of reasoning, of responsibility and of survival in anything resembling our present nature. It poses a problem of governance we are beginning to try to answer before we understand the question. Governance of AI from a purely legal point of view will end up allowing it to play an ever greater role in our lives. It will quickly take total control of us. We don’t know how far we already are along that road because we do not know where it ends. The speed of development suggests we are further down it than most people think – or (apparently) care.

The question we need to address is who we want to be. Godlike as this appears, we are on the brink of being able to fashion ourselves significantly if not wholly. We already have considerable genetic control with the possibility of physical immortality in some form or other quite soon. Our understanding of our brain – and, more importantly, AI’s experience of our brain – is gathering speed very fast. If we do not control AI, it will take over our thinking completely. Unqualified experience will lead to confusion of true and false that will be difficult to unravel.

We already have some forms of mental immortality – print, recording, film. It is a very short step from those to a live mental exchange based initially on our past behaviour and then on the intelligence AI will develop for, and attribute to, us. The loss of a loved one is very tragic. Records and pictures to remind us of them from time to time are comforting and nostalgic. Whether having them actively participating in our every moment forever is what we want is something we still have to decide.

Our pace of life is sunrise to sunset. Too fast and we won’t be able to cope with it at all.

Knowing who we are would be a good start. That has changed as both individuals and societies have grown and aged. Some of the change has been within our control, some has been outside it. Most people know only a part of who they are. Very few know who they want to be. Generally, people want to feel or believe that they have some measure of control over themselves. Just look at how that wish developed during the pandemic, to the point where it is causing employers serious management problems. 

Free will is still a concept most people inherently wish for.

Deciding who we want to be requires us to know what are the possibilities. With a self-developing artificial intelligence they are evolving all the time. Today’s possibilities will be old hat tomorrow. One factor would seem to remain under our control until we lose or abandon it – that is our ability to restrain AI from developing any further than we want it to. This can be a temporary halt or, at least in theory, a permanent one. 

The developers of AI are already discussing governance and suggesting that guidelines for its use and development need to be drawn up now. Only a cynic would say that business self-governance has a spotty record of success but as long as financial return on investment is the main criterion of it, companies can be expected to strive for that ahead of philosophical and social balance. Modifying ROI has proved more difficult than anyone thought, especially in relation to climate, equal opportunity and war.

The nearest we have to today’s AI situation is nuclear fusion. Capable of immense energy generation it is also a threat to the survival of humanity, or at least large swathes of it. Recognising this, we have, as a world society, collectively agreed treaties to avoid its use as weaponry. Those treaties are holding now. For how long is very much in the balance at present. Territorial competition, accident and madness can change the position at a moment’s notice.

Knowing who we want to be and what control over our lives we want to have is a basic prerequisite to controlling artificial intelligence.

Who do you want to be?

Good morning

John Bittleston 

If you’re willing to tell us please do so at

We’d be delighted to learn from you.

17 May 2023