There is and has been a lot of discussion on how Artificial Intelligence (AI) will replace us all and how there will be a descent into the dark abyss of joblessness. Humans being replaced by AIs, controlled by AIs and made to server the AId. Run for the hills we are all going to die.
Well the last point is correct, about the rest I don’t know.
In the last few months there have been endless posts on Hacker News on AI. Either how wonderful it is and how one can generate children books with AI or how AI will replace all artists, professional copyrighters and basically end all human creativity. Even a discussion whether AI will suffer a sudden end at the hands of copyright laws and content patents.
For me, I see the parallel of my parents being scared that I would watch too much television: “You’ll get square eyes and ruin your eyesight”. Ironically it didn’t ruin my eyesight but it did ruin my worldview, my perception of the people around me (“why aren’t they all smiley, tall, blond and handsome?”) and generally altered my societal interactions.
Now of course I chuckled to myself when my parents berated me “Television is addictive, go outside and enjoy nature” they would say. Who knows what my parents parents said to them. Don’t listen to the radio, go outside and play in the garden. And the parents of my parents parents were probably told to go to school and not spend so much time in the garden.
Fast forward a few years, I see my parents all over again but this time in the mirror. AI will be the end of us and AI is going to replace us all are thoughts of mine. None of us ever believed that we would be faced with technology that we could not understand. Technology that could be so addictive. Technology that would replace our trusted understood technologies. Imagine the shock people felt as trains replaced horses as the transport technology and then cars being the final death-nail for those horses. Or who would have thought that replacing the corded rotary phone with a cordless digital phone would end up with our children being addicted to their mobile phones.
Each generation believes that such silly things would not happen to them. We never believed that we would become like our parents: scared of technology.
Well we have.
Many would argue that it is different now and we are, this time, doomed. This is not similar to those other times when we did somehow manage to survive. Yes yes, I believe it too. We are all going to die but that has nothing to do with technology, that is nature.
We forget that technology need not to be deployed, technology need not be set free. It is always up to us to decide which technologies we, on a societal level, decide to employ. It is not technology that is killing us, it’s us ourselves. It’s our greed to do more and more with less and less, until eventually we can do everything with nothing - Ephemeralization - Buckmeister-Fuller. It is us who in the end choose which technologies we employ in our service. Whether it be it coal or wind power. Be it conventional weapons or nuclear weapons. The technology does not make that choice, we do.
There are plenty of technologies that have never seen the light of day: molten salt reactor that was developed in the 1950s for the air force to have nuclear powered airplanes, rotary engine for cars never took off because they saved fuel - big oil had no interest, light bulb that lasts forever won’t have made Edison enough money, so instead he invented “planned obsolescence” and the rest is history.
Why did these technologies not see the light of day? The common thread is greed. So if you are worried about AI taking over the world, you will need to think of a scenario whereby greed prevents the deployment of AI. And interestingly, what exactly is driving the development of AI in the first place?
A company employing many copyrighters to write, for example, stories for social media or replying to questions from customers, will eventually begin to think whether it would be possible to replace such “minor” tasks. So a company such as Amazon which has already automated its warehouse but continues to be forced by investors and the market to make ever more profits, will look to other areas for optimisations. Here the greed of the investors is forcing Amazon to make ever more profits. Profits that come from saving money instead of making money.
Ideally a company would like remove those employees that earn the most. However, speaking in general terms, it is those jobs that are the hardest to automate. Coding jobs are also being replaced by AI generated code as developers tend to be expensive. Getting rid of a developer makes more sense than a copyrighter. However code is one of those things that is very important to the bottom line and if you get that wrong, well there goes the neighbourhood.
Ironically I see technology such as Node-Red with more trepidation. Node-Red makes programming (syntactically error free programming) far simpler. It allows managers to change business flows, it allows copyrighters to modify email texts without checking out codebases and learning source control commands. Eventually it will allow non-programmers to design and build business flows.
AI will streamline quite a few processes but it will never collect the garbage. Nor will AI care for the sick. Nor look after the elderly in retirement homes. No, AI will do none of those things. (Although Japan is an exception here since they do build robots that are used in retirement homes.) Ironically AI would not do these things because they require human-to-human altruist behaviour and in addition to that, it’s not a profitable industry (for carers). But it’s only a question of time: profitability versus the cost of developing the technology.
Stupidity of AI, what do I mean with that? Considering that all these “intelligent AIs” are language models that predict the next word in a sentence rather than understanding what they are saying. It reminds me of the “ape-man” Arthur at the end of Hitchhikers Guide to Galaxy as he pulls out the scramble stones and produces the sentence “what do you get if you multiply six by nine?”. In a certain sense we are still the apes sitting around being amazed as the AI pulls out each word from the bag. Wow, we say, it’s intelligent.
AI does wonderful things but they are only wonderful because we don’t understand how it does it. It is similar to going to a magic show except we can’t ask the magician how they performed their tricks.
Mysticism loses its magic with understanding.
And what about the apes around the campfire? The discovery of fire was a tremendous step forward but imagine the first ancestors of us as their mastered fire? Imagine the fear that pulsed through the veins of those ancestors. And today we have little rectangle objects that make fire, instantaneously, when we need fire. Imagine those same ancestors seeing something similar to a lighter. Imagine the mystic around such a device, a device that we take for granted because we understand how it works.
We have come a long way with our technologies but we continue to have the same instinctive fears of our ancestors.
Written purely by the human AI (hence the spllng mstakes), no computer AI involved.