Did you know that the Ford Motor Company which created the first mass produced horseless carriage in 1908 is one of the largest manufacturers of automobiles a century later? Did you notice how cars today look almost the same as the Model T? They are all made of metal, have four wheels, a steering wheel, a dashboard, a windshield, two rows of seats and an engine. Closer inspection reveals that all newer car manufacturers make cars that look and feel just like the cars made by the Ford Motor Company. And they all drive on roads and use wheels, wheels, the hottest disruptive innovation of the Neolithic era. Truly disruptive innovation, unlike its short lived destructive cousins, stretches across millennia of useful applications.
Strangely enough, beds and tables and chairs, and the houses they furnish, look basically the same as those used by Louis XIV. Bread loaves and wine look the same too, and so do fishes. Another thing that hasn’t changed much from the beginning of time is the fertility of our collective imagination. At one time we imagined cherubs floating on clouds and magical beings who control the world and every single life within it. Entire industries sprung around that innovation, industries whose thought-leaders ruled the world in the name and on behalf of our imaginary hopes and mostly fears. For a while there, we decided that imagination is a personal thing and it should be separated from the mundane tangibles of our earthly affairs. That didn’t last long.
What separates us from the hapless creatures we are now killing by the bushel is the capacity and need to believe in something greater than ourselves, something that transcends our mortality and provides us with a purpose external to our own existence. First it was the certain belief in an omnipotent, and incomprehensible to mere mortals, intelligent design of the world we live in. Now it is the arrogant belief in our ability to create our future creator, an artificial intelligence to supersede our own, and to shape the world in ways beyond the wildest dreams of avarice and the trembling terrors of perdition’s flames. The age old puzzle of whether God can make a rock so big and heavy that even He cannot lift it, seems about to be resolved.
Suffering today, being beaten, tortured, starved and killed, is just fine, because after that comes your own personal Garden of Eden. Being unemployed, unemployable and living on meager handouts with no hope for a better future for you or your children, is perfectly fine, because after that comes “the eradication of disease and poverty”. Well, it is not “unfathomable” that it comes, and that’s pretty good, so go ahead and fathom amongst yourselves. And be afraid, very afraid, because unless you give us more money to study how we should go about doing the right thing, some really scary scenarios, such as having Gov. Schwarzenegger chase you in the middle of the night, are also fathomable. When? Sooner than you think, if you are still thinking, otherwise let’s say next Tuesday.
Stating that we are on the verge of creating artificial intelligence superior to the human brain, when we can't even make artificial chickens at this point, sounds a bit specious, doesn’t it? But that is not preventing us from incessantly talking and writing about it in order to generate the tried and true mixture of hopes for salvation, at an unspecified time in the future, with immediate and actionable fears of doing wrong today. We have magnificent prophets and we already have the heretics lined up as well. Did you ever wonder why some prophets had their litanies included in definitive compilations of bibles, while others were literally and figuratively burned at the stake? It may be helpful to look behind the curtains at those who anointed the prophets then and those who are anointing them now, because they are one and the same.
The job of prophets has always been to strip commoners of their ability to make independent decisions. Today’s prophets of disruptive innovation are showing us the road to becoming Roman patricians spending our entire lives sprawled on fainting couches while being fanned and fed gorgeous grapes by beautiful machines. The first thing we must do is to offload decision making to the precursor of the slave-savant machine of the future, so it can learn and practice the art and science of pleasuring us. Letting your GPS decide how to get from point A to point B is one example, and letting Google decide what you should read is another, although the latter may soon become obsolete, since enjoying grapes on your couch does not require any reading. Letting your “phone” decide when you should stand and when you should sit, when to eat and what to eat, and when you feel and how you feel is the next step in our evolution towards a perfect union between amino acids and silicon compounds.
Perhaps nothing illustrates our glorious path to heaven on earth better than health care, and befittingly so, since health is life, hence health care is life care, is everything. The old definition of health care included mostly restorative medical activities to one’s health, but as the value of people keeps declining in an overpopulated global economy, and the costs of repairs are increasing, a more expansive, machine oriented, definition seems in order. People, you see, are essentially carbon-based machines, like say cars, the only analogy simpleminded voters seem to comprehend. To reduce your lifetime expenses on your car, and to enjoy a reliable vehicle for the duration, you need to have all the maintenance done on schedule (e.g. oil changes, tire rotation, filters, belts, etc.), drive carefully and obey the law, use the car sparingly, without too much starting and stopping, and you should wash and wax regularly, and generally keep it nice and clean inside and out.
You get the recommended preventive care for your model, all the screenings and tests, so any early signs of malfunction can be addressed, and you swallow all the recommended additives to make operations smooth and well lubricated, without undue stress to any of your parts, especially the feeble brain part. You refrain from reckless activities, and keep your mind and body clean on the inside and on the outside. The prophets, or futurists, as they prefer to be addressed today, are guiding us to all sorts of little silicon parts that we can incorporate in ourselves on the incremental road to transferring the limited intelligence functionality of biological creatures to superior artificial components. This simple process of artificial evolution towards a brighter future does not seem to come naturally to most people. These things never do. This is precisely why piety and obedience need to be enforced by cannons and laws, and here and there a few weaklings or outright skeptics must be made examples of what people should fear most.
Google is now making self-driving cars and in the future it will be making self-driving people. Whereas the self-driving Google cars look the same as those made by the Ford Motors Company, the futuristic self-driving Google people will look indistinguishable from the Neolithic geniuses who invented the wheel. And just like the Google cars are not really driving themselves, the Google people won’t either. Google is driving the cars and Google will be driving the people, and Google is driven by people. As it always has been and as it always shall be, a handful of megalomaniacal people will be driving masses of other people into hopeless existence, although, this time around, hopelessness should come with grape-dispensing machines and free happy pills.
Artificial intelligence is not autonomous machine intelligence. Artificial intelligence is not the fictional story of cyborgs roaming the earth. It is the story of the Wizard of Oz, the story of Stalin and Maoist reeducation, the story of Torquemada and the Dark Ages, the story of Egyptian Pharaohs and high priests clad in jewels accepting offerings from starving barefooted men while overseeing ritual sacrifices. It is the story of a cosmically inconsequential power trip that may set us back millennia instead of just centuries. At times like this, we should keep in mind that the true innovations driving humanity, and all cyclical prophecies of bliss and gloom along the way, were invented by men who were just slightly removed from apes.
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