Despite the frequent warnings of both experts in the field and laymen, we continue to march along towards a future dominated by artificial intelligence constructs. For some reason, those with the ability to shape our futures just really want us to become the subservient Terminator fodder of a superintelligent AI hivemind built right into the very fabric of the technosphere. Are we creating our new overlords? Even worse, have already already created them? Could it be possible that we’ve already passed the tipping point and are already controlled by AI constructs?
It’s possible, according to technologist and historian George Dyson, son of theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson. Dyson has built a career out of studying the history of science and technology, and believes current trends point to a future in which the machines surely take over. To ring in the New Year in the most depressing and hope-crushing way possible, Dyson sat down with Edge.org to discuss the digital revolution and where he sees it heading. According to Dyson, we’ve already lost control of our most advanced technology and are already following the orders prescribed to us by the machines:
As computers proliferated, the humans providing instructions could no longer keep up with the insatiable appetite of the machines. Codes became self-replicating, and machines began supplying instructions to other machines. […] There is now more code than ever, but it is increasingly difficult to find anyone who has their hands on the wheel. Individual agency is on the wane. Most of us, most of the time, are following instructions delivered to us by computers rather than the other way around.
Think about it: your social media feeds, search engine results, suggested products on Amazon – all of these are curated for you by intelligent algorithms which study your habits even when you put the phone down for a few scant seconds. Ever notice how ads occasionally appear on your phone for things you’ve been talking about within hearing range of your phone? The machines are listening.
Dyson goes further, stating that whereas search engines and social media were once descriptive – that is, they were designed to map and index human knowledge and relationships – they have now become prescriptive. Google is human knowledge, and Facebook is your social life. When you want to know something, where do you go to look it up? When you want to know what your friends are up to, do you ask them or Facebook? According to Dyson, this shows we’ve already given up control to the machines, or at least those controlling the machines. As those companies give more and more control to their AI networks, though, we’ll see human control removed from the equation entirely.
As early as 2017, technology experts were already warning that there was a dark secret at the heart of AI: we have no idea how the most advanced systems actually do what they do. What happens ten years from now when these systems are exponentially more advanced than they are now? Will all-intelligent AI became the new gods? After all, humankind has always created our gods and supreme beings using whatever media were available to us at the time: stone, ink and paper, big-budget superhero films, and now machine learning algorithms. Will the new gods be as malevolent as the old ones?
Dyson does add a bit of hope, stating he believes we’ll soon see a new “analog revolution” spring up in response to the out-of-control digital revolution. Does that mean angry mobs of pitchfork-and-torch-wielding Luddites will =smashing computers and self-driving cars will become a more common sight?
Man, I hope so.