A.I. On Why We Fear it, Love and Can’t Resist it.
Technology is an expression of what it means to be human. From helping us create our own imagined future to bringing to life societal changes. In a prior article, I wrote about why humans need technology. Here, I look at why we fear, love and can’t resist Artificial Intelligence (A.I.).
All technologies come from our imagination, driven into being by the desire of an imagined future. Whether that be the most basic element of survival or to make the ultimate french fries.
Since we started making stone tools around 1.8 million years ago, we have largely been imagining how to change our physical world. The technologies we imagined helped us survive physically. We developed language and writing as technologies to be able to communicate the intended outcome and use of the tools we have been making to shape our physical world.
Because we’ve used technologies to shape our physical world for a very long time and we’ve embedded technology into culture we have a deep understanding of its nature. We know implicitly that a hammer can help build things as well as take things apart or hurt bonk someone on the head.
Digital technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, smartphones, genetic engineering, are shaping our cognitive world, our minds. They change the constructs we have built in our minds to survive such as culture and societies far more than any physical world technology.
The most cognitively impactful digital technology today of course is Artificial Intelligence. We both love it and fear it at the same time. And we can’t stop working on it.
On the fear side of AI, we see it as taking over humanity and creating a dystopian world at best and at worst, wiping us off the face of the planet. That there will be massive job losses, artists and musicians will become irrelevant, designers will be gone too, from visual arts to fashion. Writers are done.
This is largely untrue and irrational. But the fears are palpable and seen through social media content and news media. They are real and expressed.
These are all symptoms and not the cause of the fear of A.I. A runny, stuffed up nose and cough are the symptoms of a cold virus.
When it comes to A.I., our actual fear, the root cause of all this fear, is the loss of human agency.
It is an existential threat because we fear something that replaces what we define as being human. It replaces the ontology of human; what being human means at our deepest level.
But we love A.I. too because we also see how it might enhance human agency. A.I. could take care of the mundane desiderata of life, freeing us up to think about and imagine entirely new, brilliant futures. We can replace the boring, repetitive jobs, no one would have to do crappy, tedious work anymore. We may imagine some utopia, but that would never be the reality.
We are continuing to evolve A.I. as well, regardless of our fears and in spite of the unknown but imagined, benefits. The reason for this may well rest in our long-held desire to create a sentience like us. We’re wandering down a rabbit hole of philosophy here. We have been trying to create clones for decades, grow organs and even brains and babies in petri dishes and test tubes.
Perhaps we feel, at some level, deeply alone? Perhaps we want to speak with someone other than ourselves in a desire for more answers to our many questions. We’ve been hungrily seeking out other sentiences beyond our world for a very long time. We have created the concept of a god, goddesses and gods, deities. Jews in Poland have a wonderful creation called the Golem, an anthropomorphic reflection of human traits. I see the idea of the Golem as a great analogy of how we see General Artificial Intelligence.
Right now we are struggling to come to terms with all of this. Some understand this implicitly while others are reacting in a symptomatic way, not seeing the cause of our fear, love and desires around A.I.
We have imagined ways AI could both hurt us and help us, but this is largely all speculative. We have some evidence through application of A.I. tools that it can detect cancer, fight parking tickets and write bar exams.
And while some A.I. tools have been used to great effect, we haven’t yet seen anything really disastrous at a global scale. The A.I. dystopia remains as imaginary as an A.I. utopia. The bad things we’ve seen with A.I. give us some clues to potential futures. Such as inherent racial, gender and socioeconomic biases that have already hurt people.
As well, A.I. is a technology that can be applied across every aspect of our lives, in every nook and cranny. Not many technologies do this, which adds to our fear and wonderment.
A.I. ethicists have been and are working on these issues. Unfortunately, most of the technology companies developing A.I. have either entirely scrapped their A.I. ethics teams or keep them tightly reined it. Shareholder dividends take priority.
Some suggest that technology is inherently neutral. I disagree. All technology is the result of an imagined future outcome. If one is inventing a new type of assault rifle, that is not neutral. An assault rifle is not neutral as its intended purpose is an imagined outcome of taking human life. Same as missiles and cluster munitions. Some technologies are neutral, but not many.
Artificial Intelligence is decidedly not neutral. We are creating it in the image of us and humans are not neutral. Already there is ChaosGPT and other experiments to see how destructive we can make A.I.
A.I deserves our respect and a respectful approach to its development. While we aren’t sure yet, A.I. could be of enormous benefit to society, helping fight disease, climate change and more. We fear it. We love it. We can’t resist it.