Where are we heading?

Photo by Franck V. on Unsplash

I’m a technophile. I surround myself with the latest technology, buy the latest gadgets and try to learn how to use them.

However, I’m scared of it.

I’m afraid we are advancing so fast and so blindly into the future that we haven’t had time to think it through, to gauge the consequences and the dangers of such technological paradise/hell.

Do we really want an AI that is smarter than us? Is that a wise thing to do? Are we creating a monster that is going to destroy us?

I’m not a Luddite but I don’t want to live in denial either.

It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.

Technology is exponential; your phone, your computer, your washing machine, your fridge will become a 100 times smarter in just a few years — AI, Deep learning, nanotechnology, robotics — all combined can explode into something unimaginable and we’ll be left behind.

There is a rule in nature: the smarter animal tends to rule. We used to compete with chimps for food, then we became smarter and now we used them for entertainment in zoos and do cruel experiments with them. Is AI going to do the same for us? You bet.

The future of AI

There are three types of Artificial Intelligence:

  • Specific (Artificial Narrow Intelligence or ANI)
  • General (Artificial General Intelligence or AGI)
  • Self-aware Intelligence

In ANI we are already lagging behind the machines — chess, go, google maps, phones, robotics, etc.

When it comes to specific tasks, machines are better and faster than us. Your phone, for example, is better than you at finding directions, taking pics, or face recognition.

In the AGI, the machines are not quite there yet, but they will, and when they do we’ll become obsolete.

The biggest danger is when machines become conscious, then I reckon, is game over for us. It’s not that they’ll become evil but we just be in the way and will have to be eliminated. We don’t kill cockroaches because they are evil, we kill them because they are inconvenient.

Exponential growth

It took the telephone 75 years to reach 50 million users, cell phones took 12 years, the internet 7, and the pace keep accelerating.

AI is already here, you use it every day. It’s learning from you as we speak. How long before we hit the singularity (the point of no return)? Not long.

History

Progress hasn’t always been on the agenda of humans. From the roman empire to the renaissance there was hardly any progress at all. If anything we went backward — for the whole period of the middle ages there was hardly any innovation in Europe.

And now when a technology is just 20 years old is already obsolete. At this pace, things will be old before they are even invented.

What is interesting to observe is that progress is not a prerequisite for survival. We only do it for one reason.

Competition

If a country starts developing new technology, then the rest of the world is forced to keep up or be relegated into oblivion.

The same happens for companies. I’m sure Apple wouldn’t make any new phones after the iPhone X if the competition didn’t keep releasing new models.

The moment there is competition, there is a never-ending race to beat the other guy regardless of the consequences. This almost took us to Armageddon in the ’70s with the nuclear race and now is happening again with AI.

The difference is that AI is not only the weapon, it’s also the enemy.

The environment

The biggest victim of all this progress is planet earth. Every technology carries a hidden cost to the environment, also known as externalities. We don’t pay the price right now but we will in the future.

Covid-19 could be a consequence of deforestation. Global warming, pollution, plastics are a huge problem for humanity, and the planet and is killing millions every year. All in the name of progress.

The technological solution

Progress is not going to stop. We are in a car that keeps accelerating, there are no breaks and no one is at the wheel.

The only hope is the technological solution — The idea that in the future we’ll find solutions to all our problems through progress. Technology will solve all problems it has created itself.

For example, Solar energy can solve our energy needs while cleaning the damage done by the oil industry.

So could electric cars, hydrogen, and self-driving cars.

That’s our only hope, otherways we are fucked.

The fact that Elon Musk is betting on Mars is a bit of a worry. He is not so confident in our ability to save this planet.

Conclusion

Technology is both the cause and the solution to all our problems. Let’s try to enjoy its benefits while minimizing its damages.

We don’t really need any more progress, we already have plenty. If this was the end of progress we would be fine ever after.

Instead of developing Windows 10, 11, 12 … just do one that actually works and stop there, at least until we master it and it becomes obsolete.

For every product, there is a lot of potential that’s left on the table just because new technologies replace existing ones.

There are two directions with technology: horizontal and vertical.

Horizontal technologies keep developing new products even the existing ones are not obsolete yet. The mobile phone industry is an example.

Vertical technologies are those that keep fine tuning the existing solution until they reach perfection. The bicycle for example is basically the same as it was 200 years ago.

Another example is musical instruments. They remain the same forever.

The good thing about these types of technologies is that they foster human creativity and depth. We wouldn’t have Coltranes or Charlie parkers if the sax had change every five years. It’s impossible to achieve the full potential of something that keeps evolving so fast.

I’m writing these lines with a pen, a 1000 years old technology that has provided humankind with great masterpieces.

The iPhone will never achieve that kind of depth just because it will disappear before we can master it.

As a hobby, I’m trying to squeeze all the possibilities of my 40-year-old computer and I’m not even 20% there yet.

Things are moving too fast to even take full advantage of them, plus they are causing a lot of harm. Sometimes I wish we could slow down and smell the flowers.

Maybe one day.

Student of life. Trying to make sense of it all, be happy and help others achieve their dreams. Join me at: albertotheauthor@gmail.com

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