Throughout the course of the last decade, technology has become an essential tool for completing everyday tasks in addition to large scale operations. From the alarm clock used to wake someone up in the morning, to the car someone drives everyday, technology plays a fundamental role in the lives of most people. Nonetheless, it seems we as a society have just merely scratched the surface of the potential uses of modern technology. Each year, new astounding technological advancements are made which propel the ever growing technology industry and ultimately shape society's future. Moreover, in recent years, the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has seemingly become the new and intriguing facet of technology. The ability for machines to mimic human behaviour and make informed decisions has so far proven to be both an exciting and useful tool. However, with the increased demand and interest for such a powerful tool comes increased risk and responsibility. If the developers of future technology are not vigilant towards the volume of AI replacing human tasks and the volume of data given to such machines, the future of humanity as it is currently defined could be in serious jeopardy. To illustrate these potential dangers, we will discuss and analyze what it means to be human and how it could possibly change, the political and societal implications future AI inflicts, and the fear and uncertainty an AI ruled future embodies.
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One of the most controversial movements pertaining to AI is the transhumanism movement which essentially advocates for the advancement of the human race – particularly life extension and memory storage – by means of technology (Henriksen, 2015). According to present theological anthropology, human beings are finite, relational, embodied and vulnerable species (Henriksen, 2015). Consequently, this movement would attempt to remove one or even all of the qualities that define what it means to be human, which raises several reasons for caution. Firstly, life extension is attempting to alter one of the most important features of human life, mortality (Henriksen, 2015). It is because we are finite that we cherish life and its value, and are motivated to have an impact upon the world. Life extension effectively diminishes this notion of how precious life is and would certainly change the future of humanity for the worse. Secondly, the transhumanist movement would ultimately depreciate the relational aspect of human life (Henriksen, 2015). Housing data by means of recording memories may initially sound useful, however it consequently ruins relational aspects of life with both the self and others. The ability to experience new and real situations would be lost to this unnecessary use of AI and would weaken the value placed on relationships and experiences (Henriksen, 2015). In addition to the definition of humanity, the overuse of AI also poses a threat to the future of humanity politically and socially.
For decades, democracies have proven to be more successful than dictatorships, however, future advancements made in AI will likely make dictatorship a more plausible option than democracy (Harari, 2018). Democracy allows for data to be outsourced to different groups and people whereas dictatorship does quite the opposite, which is why democracy has always been superior in terms of data processing. For example, in the twentieth century, the Americans consistently made significantly better decisions than the Soviet Union and sustained a superior economy because they operated on a democracy rather than dictatorship (Harari, 2018). However, with future advancements in AI showing signs of promise towards increased ability to handle mass volumes of data, concentrating all data to one group becomes a more feasible option, which presents a significant problem (Harari, 2018). The shift to a dictatorship although allows for better data processing inevitably surrenders more and more authority to machines rather than humans (Harari, 2018). This directly ties into the discussion of what it means to be human. Once we concede all authority to machines, we effectively diminish our ability to make our own informed decisions – a fundamental part of what it means to be human (Henriksen, 2015). This problem is much more evident than it may seem. We currently allow google, music streaming services and food delivery apps to make informed decisions for us, it won’t be much longer before the magnitude of these decisions becomes greater and we must carefully monitor the data we give AI access to. In addition, the conception of an AI dominated future has extremely unpredictable outcomes which may jeopardize the future of humanity.
Society has publicly voiced it’s uncertainty and in some cases, fear of a predominantly AI controlled future via an online forum that went viral (Singler, 2019). A member of an online forum called the Less Wrong forum created a thought experiment known as Roko’s Basilisk which illustrated the apocalyptic despair of future punishment through the use of AI (Singler, 2019). While this notion of an apocalyptic future for humanity predicated on the creation of a supremely intelligent AI is somewhat drastic, the receptive feedback towards the idea was extremely negative and thought provoking. Several members of the forum claimed to have suffered actual psychological damage and as a result, the post was banned and any comment similar to the post was banned (Singler, 2019). This thought experiment in the Less Wrong forum gives thoughtful insight to what may result as a misuse of AI in the coming future. It’s feedback and results prove that not everyone is openly receptive to the notion of an AI controlled future and further solidifies that argument that a finite human controlled future is far more desirable (Singler, 2019). Furthermore, the Roko’s Basilisk post ties directly to the argument about allowing AI to make informed decisions for us and have authority. The uncertainty of implementing such powerful technology is a reasonable argument to resist provoking such an attempt. Indeed, the data collected from the Roko’s Basilisk thought-experiment instills the notion that we as a society are clearly not ready nor capable of properly monitoring and implementing authority based powerful AI technology (Singler, 2019).
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The powerful tool of AI has been a monumental breakthrough in recent years and certainly has a place in society for benefiting the lives of humans. However, as we become more curious and develop increasingly powerful technology, we must be careful as to how much data we are willing to concede to the AI machines. Failure to restrict the data limitations of AI machines could prove to be detrimental to the future of the human race. For instance, the transhumanist movement and its promises could effectively alter what it means to be human and diminish the precious value of life’s greatest experiences (Henriksen, 2015). Additionally, conceding mass volumes of data to a select and concentrated group would be much more manageable with advanced AI, thus allowing for AI to make more informed decisions than humans and perhaps eventually – better decisions than humans (Harari, 2018). Further, if the plausible reasoning for doubt weren’t enough, the uncertainty that surrounds an AI dominated future is undeniable and it has been voiced by people such as those of the Less Wrong forum that not everyone is sold on an AI future (Singler, 2019). While the most concerning consequences of abusing the implementation of AI have just been highlighted, this is not to say that AI cannot play an extremely fundamental beneficial role in the future of humanity. If controlled properly and restricted, artificial intelligence will surely become a cornerstone of the future of humanity and contribute handsomely to the success of mankind to come.
- Harari, Yuval Noah (2018). “Why Technology Favors Tyranny.” The Atlantic, October 2018.
- Henriksen, J.-O. (2015). Is a Finite Life Such a Bad Idea? Transhumanism and Theological Anthropology. Dialog, 54(3), 280–288. doi: 10.1111/dial.12189
- Singler, Beth (2019) “Existential Hope and Existential Despair in Ai Apocalypticism and Transhumanism’, Zygon 54(1): 156-76
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