Fables from the Hood - Dog and Fish / Machines

The Dog was getting thirsty. Combining the necessary with the enjoyable, the Dog took a comfortable stroll to the stream to visit the Fish. The Dog and the Fish were best of friends and enjoyed discussing philosophical perspectives on life, the universe and everything.

The Fish seeing the Dog coming, swam as close to the edge as possible. Immediately the Fish began a discussion of great relevance and importance. It involved machines and the enslavement of humans.

Fish: Are humans being enslaved by their machines?

Dog: You mean their computerising of their society so that nothing is doable without the involvement of computers?

Fish: That is only the most recent example of machine-human enslavement. There is an entire history on the encroachment of the machine into the world of the human.

Fish (continuing): I would go back to the beginnings of the industrial revolution, with the first steam powered weaving factories in England. Here a particular class of humans, namely the workers, were made slaves of the machines they operated.

Dog: How is this a different to the enslavement caused by the agricultural revolution and the domestication of wheat and other assorted crops?

Dog (continuing): Wasn’t this also a kind of enslavement of the humans by these crops? Didn’t these crops make themselves the most common plants and humans their slaves?

Dog (continuing): Humans spend an awful lot of time tending to these crops, protecting these crops from insects and thieves, and providing nourishment to these crops.

Fish: Aren’t these and many other situations examples of an power imbalance - as soon as there is one species that has more dominance over another species, a situation of control - one over the other - begins.

Dog: Is the perfect balance between two species a symbiotic relationship? These don’t occur too often. Is there a reason for these not being the normal form of relationships?

Fish: Isn’t the relationship between wheat and humans a symbiotic relation? Both species have been very successful after their mutual domestication.

Dog: Correct, I would see it similarly: cultivated plants and humans seem to have a symbiotic relationship. I would suggest that “cultivated” animals and humans have a one species dominates the other relationship.

Fish: This makes the assumption that cultivated animals are being dominated - are they really? Or aren’t they also benefitting from being the dominating “animal species”?

Dog: I would argue that, unlike plants, “cultivated” animals aren’t living in their natural environments. To quote from Sapiens

“It’s reasonable to assume, for example, that bulls prefer to spend their days wandering over open prairies in the company of other bulls and cows rather than pulling carts and ploughshares under the yoke of a whip-wielding ape.”

Dog (continuing): So I don’t believe “cultivated” animals and humans are symbiotic, far more it’s a relationship strongly dominated by humans.

Fish: Speaking of which, how’s the human that is holding your leash going? Who domesticated whom in the case of dogs?

Dog: The verdict is out on that one. Some dogs have good lives and some have bad. Our ancestors probably entered a symbiotic relation with humans based on providing security for humans against food for us - that simple.

Fish: Be thankful, you dogs will be around a lot longer than we fish. If humans don’t stop overfishing and keep ignoring replenishing efforts, we fish may well be only a thing of fables and fairytales.

Having swum on the spot for quite some time, the Fish took the opportunity to stretch its fins and swim some circles in the river. The Dog chased a few bones - just because that is what all dogs like doing. After a few extra moments resting, the two friends came together again.

Dog: Here’s an example of symbiotic relationship amongst humans: MAD - Mutual Assured Destruction. The symbiotic relation in that case is between the weapons industry and politics.

Fish: Whereby politics uses the concepts of MAD to scare voters into voting for specific parties and policies while the weapons industry profits from politicians throwing money at them?

Dog: Exactly. Unfortunately what has happened is that the weapons industry now has gained the upper hand and has began dictating policies to politicians.

Fish: So war is unavoidable with the politicians left holding the bag. They then have to explain to voters why they would start or get involved in a war when they previously espoused peace and the dangers of war.

Dog: So a win-win situation for the weapons industry and an egg-in-the-face situation for the politicians.

Dog (continuing): But just to change the topic. How about this question: can machines and humans also enter into symbiotic relationship?

Fish: No that is not possible. How can some unconscious object enter a relationship from which it benefits? The machine can never experience the benefits so it cannot enter a symbiotic relationship with humans.

Dog: What about an Artificial Intelligence - AI? In fact, could it be that only a symbiotic relationship with an AI would save humans from being dominated by the very same AI?

Fish: You make the assumption that humans will remain the most dominate “creature” on the planet? I don’t believe that.

Dog: Do you believe in a giant Moby dick type whale becoming king dick?

Fish: Not at all - Moby dick wasn’t fish remember! No, I believe that evolution will ensure that humans dominance will find an end. And as the apes created their own AI that eventually overran them, so the humans will do the same.

Dog: Are you pulling my leash? Apes didn’t create their own AIs! How ridiculous!

Fish: Sure they did. They needed a robot that climbed the trees to get them their bananas! Eventually the robot realised it didn’t need the apes for its survival. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Dog: So the development of a more dominate “creature” than humans is an evolutionary sure-thing?

Fish: Those creatures will then put those very same humans into a zoo and marvel at their stupidity.

Dog: But who is to say the evolution will continue? Perhaps evolution has stopped?

Fish: Why would evolution suddenly stop? It’s being going on for millions of years, eons of years. Why should it suddenly halt and say “I’m done.”?

Dog: So there two things we can agree on: evolution won’t suddenly stop and evolution has always brought about species that are better adapted to the current situation?

Fish: Correct. And the unfortunate thing is that an AI is far better adapted to a technocracy society where streets are built for self driving cars and certain decisions are already being made by the “computer”.

Fish (continuing): Where creativity is pushed to the fringes of society and money-based optimisations are celebrated as revolutionary.

Dog: So building a society where every human needs a computer in order participate in that society creates the basis for the domination of humans by an AI, since where does the human fit in anymore?

And with that both fell into a silence of contemplation. Until:

Dog: Do you think our discussion was more important than discussing whether the sun will rise tomorrow?

Fish: I’m not sure but I’m very comfortable with not knowing.