Without control, could AI become the mother of all weapons of mass destruction?
In a fascinating article for The Guardian about the emerging revolt against technology, Jamie Bartlett cites the notorious Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, who “predicted super-intelligent machines dictating society, the psychological ill-effects of tech-reliance and the prospect of obscene inequality as an elite of techno-savvies run the world.”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
Possessing the requisite knowledge about technology or technical matters that ensures a person will be part of the new ruling elite
Artificial intelligence (AI) is beginning to dominate headlines in the most extraordinary way. It generates not only fear of what it might do, but now fear of what might be done to it by those who revolt against it. Who will be protecting whom?
AI symbolizes the formidable power of all the technologies that have suddenly come to dominate our waking hours, technologies that have consistently promised to make our lives easier, richer and more fun. If AI ends up thinking for us, solving our problems and doing all the hard work associated with our jobs, we need simply to sit back and focus on our true vocation, as worthy citizens the consumer society: consuming (whether it’s food, drink, images, film or drugs).
This prospect has begun to concern people who still insist on exercising their human intelligence, from Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking to the neo-Luddites and future acolytes of Ted Kaczynski. They seem to believe human society exists for another purpose than being regulated by mechanical brains.
By now we should have become aware of what happens when human intelligence seeks to control any technology. It gives us Google, Facebook and Apple, all of whom are engaged in a relentless campaign of mind control hiding behind an agenda of free market competition and maximization of profit. In their defense, these enterprises are not really trying to control our minds and monopolize our attention. They simply sell that attention to advertisers to increase their revenues and profits. That’s what corporations are supposed to do in the capitalist system. That’s what their shareholders expect. And they produce the trends the pundits of Wall Street constantly watch to gauge the health of the economy. Long live the software kings!
In 2015, Musk, Hawking and others launched an open letter pleading for the responsible use of AI. They expressed the pious wish to “to make AI systems robust and beneficial” for humanity. In 2017, Musk’s optimism seemed to dim as he offered a dire warning, “suggesting the emerging technology poses an even greater risk to the world than a nuclear conflagration with North Korea.” Hawking pulled no punches in affirming that the ” development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” In other words, many of the leading human intelligences in the world support the project of open, ethically regulated artificial intelligence. They believe that without control, AI is likely to become the mother of all weapons of mass destruction. But who will exercise that control?
Musk appears to remember Mary Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein when he explains that “sometimes … a scientist will get so engrossed in their work that they don’t really realize the ramifications of what they’re doing.” He failed to mention that sometimes clever entrepreneurs and their greedy investors get so engrossed in their idea of making money that they don’t realize the ramifications of their investment. Or that governments are sometimes tempted to secretly develop and control powerful destructive technology with the unimpeachable intention of preventing other “less ethical” governments from discovering it or using it. It then becomes their own means of controlling both the economy and minds of their own people, who are mercifully kept in the dark. The examples of nuclear weapons and National Security Agency surveillance come to mind.
So, who are the tech-savvies in the end? As we learn from journalist Maureen Dowd writing for Vanity Fair quoting Jaron Lanier, considered the father of virtual reality, “There’s a tremendous narcissism in it that we’re the people who can do it. No one else. The Pope can’t do it. The president can’t do it. No one else can do it. We are the masters of it … The software we’re building is our immortality.”
That small group’s claim on immortality appears to separate them from the world of mortals. That alone is a disturbing thought.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
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