There are some Futurists who argue that we humans are headed for oblivion, to be replaced by a new species—a product of the current mind-boggling developments in Artificial Intelligence, robotics and machine learning. There’s no better proof for that claim than the presidential campaign just staggering to its farcical conclusion, in what is supposed to be the most advanced country on the planet.
To begin with, both candidates are profoundly disliked, and for good reason. Hillary Clinton has been dodging questions about her email server, about pay for play with Clinton Foundation, about her cozy relationship with Wall Street. But her sins pale beside the stark charges against her opponent.
There is overwhelming evidence that Donald Trump is a psychopathic liar, a sexual predator, con artist, cheat, and racist—so unstable that his handlers quake every time he veers away from the Teleprompter.
And finally, even if he loses, Trump and his more rabid followers are vowing to cripple the U.S. government, if that is what’s necessary, to wreak vengeance on his opponent.
They claim to be the only true patriots. But what more could America’s enemies hope for?
The terrible irony is that the United States, which may be lurching towards a form of political suicide, is the same nation that still leads the world in stunning scientific advances.
Which may also be a sign that we’ve reached a decisive turning point in our planet’s history. The human species, that created a great civilization over tens of thousands of years, is about to part ways with the remarkable new species that we ourselves have created through our technological brilliance. It is a new species by which we will—at best--be dominated; or, at worst, destroyed.
In other words, even though the primitive reptilian part of our brain has taken over our politics, our scientific skills are still advancing faster than ever before. We’re hurtling from one discovery to the next at a vertiginous rate. But no one’s at the controls.
Indeed, the measure of the absolute bankruptcy of America’s political system is that the candidates-and 99% of the media—have managed to avoid discussing the major and very immediate threats facing our species-—nuclear war, climate change--and that technological revolution that is already upending our society.
In fact, (as I’ve previously blogged) it is the fear provoked by that revolution is largely driving the campaign of Donald Trump --and similar populist movements around the globe. It’s the fear of change--that the known world is being overwhelmed by frightening new uncontrollable factors--terrorism, refugees, endless wars in distant lands. But most of all, its being driven by the hollowing out of the incomes of tens of millions of people over the past few decades--the loss of jobs, homes, and security. It’s the acknowledgement that they are no longer part of a society that is on an escalator heading endlessly upwards. There’s an apprehension that they, their children, and their once preeminent country, are in free fall, threatened by forces they fear but don’t understand.
They also don’t comprehend that a large part of their plight is not due to botched trade treaties, unbridled immigration, or rapacious currency manipulation, but to the technological revolution the candidates--and most of the media--refuse to talk about, but which has already destroyed millions of jobs, and will continue to do so at increasingly more sophisticated levels over the coming years.
Estimates are that close to half the jobs in the United States are likely to be wiped out or seriously diminished by technological change within the near future.
Such wrenching changes will necessitate a drastic reorganization of our society, a total overhaul of how humans will live and learn and work (for those who still have jobs) and care for each other.
There are some who argue that, as it has in the past, technological change will create more jobs than it destroys. There’s strong evidence that they’re wrong. But even that issue is not being discussed in the campaign. It’s as if a huge tsunami, which has already crested and is now roaring ashore, is being willfully ignored by the people in its path.
We’re not just talking civilian jobs. A large proportion of the brainpower and resources devoted to new technologies are being lavished on the military—on ever more sophisticated weapons systems guided by Artificial Intelligence [AI] rather than humans. Those systems already range from insect-size drones to battle tanks, crewless submarines, warships, and space satellites. One estimate is that by 2025 the U.S. army will have more robots than soldiers in its ranks.
More than 1,000 experts have already signed a declaration warning of the perils of a global arms race in AI. The danger, they say is not decades but years away.
“If any major military power pushes ahead with AI weapon development, a global arms race is virtually inevitable, and the endpoint of this technological trajectory is obvious: autonomous weapons will become the Kalashnikovs of tomorrow…It will only be a matter of time until they appear on the black market and in the hands of terrorists, dictators wishing to better control their populace, warlords wishing to perpetrate ethnic cleansing, etc. Autonomous weapons are ideal for tasks such as assassinations, destabilising nations, subduing populations and selectively killing particular ethnic group.”
Among those signing that declaration were Professor Stephen Hawking, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Tesla CEO Elon Musk.
Another danger went unmentioned: once we’ve produced highly sophisticated killing machines, that are able to learn and program themselves without human input, how do we ensure that they--or the next generation of robotic warriors--don’t decide that it’s we, the humans, who are the enemies?
Did you hear about that threat in any Presidential debate?