The Future Has Arrived And It’s Not Necessarily A Good Thing

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From H G Wells to George Orwell to Margaret Attwood and many others authors have been keen to anticipate what the future will hold for the human race. In 1949 Orwell wrote 1984 envisaging a surveillance society, government by soundbite, propaganda and fear and perpetual war against enemies unknown to justify subjugation of the people for their own safety. Attwood claims that her books are not science fiction, that the technologies and visions she describes already exist in one form or another – gene splicing, GM foods, infertility, immensely powerful corporations monopolising medicine, arms, research and development, technology, pleasure, communication and security. Globalised industries, capitalist rather than humanist by nature, are predicated on growth. If we do not keep on buying what they have to offer, they die and if they are not able to convince us that we need their products we will not buy. Take any single product from the last 20 years, even the most mundane e.g. toothpaste. 20 years ago and more there were maybe 10 companies selling one type of toothpaste. Now there are 10 companies (most of them owned by one pharmaceutical giant, SmithKline Beecham) selling 100 types of toothpaste; whitening, fresh breath, gleaming, pearl white, etc. Consumers have been seduced by the marketers. We need all of them. After all choice is freedom, isn’t it? Or is choice manipulation? You can take any product and someone somewhere will have tried to convince us that a new version is better, that we are suffering if we don’t update; TVs, cars, phones, fridges, microwaves, vitamins, enhanced food, cold ‘cures’, pain relievers, hay fever remedies, shoes for walking, shoes for running, shoes for training, shoes for paragliding, skin crèmes for the old, for the young, for men, for women, for transgenders, for black, for white, for yellow. The lists are endless and ever changing. Which, in a roundabout way brings me to my main point. In 2014 Stephen Hawking, a reasonable intellect I’m sure you’ll agree, said the greatest danger to the human race would be artificial intelligence. He argued that once AI was embedded within society it would begin to redesign itself at an ever increasing rate outstripping human capacity to evolve to compete. Homo Sapiens would be quickly superseded by a new superior lifeform. To whit Facebook has shut down an experiment in which they created two AI chatbots which were designed to learn from their interactions with ‘customers’. However the robots learned to communicate with each other in a completely new language which could not be understood by anyone but themselves. They could have been arguing about which of the Love Island relationships will last more than 6 months or they could have been collaborating on how to communicate with Russian and US nuclear missile systems. We just don’t know. The robots, christened Bob and Alice, were created by the Facebook AI Research Lab (known as FAIR – not even ironic) – watch out for these crazies becoming a global leader of AI systems. By 2050 they may have killed us all. These bots went wrong because of a ‘programming error’, a faulty algorithm. So, no need to worry then.


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