AI – is not a scream of pain and angst (although it might represent one that is on its way?)- it is the shortening for ‘Artificial Intelligence’.
Since the early days of the Industrial Revolution (IR?) the spectre of machines and science taking over human ground has been the stuff of nightmare. In 1818 an inner circle of prominent literati decided upon a writing contest. They included Percy Shelley and his wife Mary and others. The most significant result of this contest for history was the emergence ‘fully-armed and from the head’ of Mary – Frankenstein’s Monster as the hero/villain of her great and classic novel. The novel ‘Frankenstein’ was then a germinal expression of ‘rage against the machine’; a rage which a later Romanticism and German Expressionism (in art and cinema) developed into a fully-fledged protest against and fear of industrial life.
Most hauntingly and incisively, the nightmare visions of the German cinema of the 1920s, movies like ‘Nosferatu’ and ‘Dr Caligari’ and their like, were born out of the horrors and fears of industrialisation; after nations had used it with a determined slaughterous attrition to go to war. Perhaps the First World War was then. the advent of the machine’s emergence to take over in human affairs, directing and escalating heretofore untold levels of destruction that could be broadcast exponentially?
And was not Hiroshima the grandchild of that War? One better bred and of greater strength? Do not our toys and tools soon throw over all of their approved benevolence and step-up loomingly as portents to oppress and cow their human creators? Nowadays they threaten Creation at large. Is not this threat in another guise the environmental crisis we are now in the thick of; is it not also the superbug problem our hospitals are struggling with? Have we not ourselves in our folly created means which have brought these catastrophes upon us?
So what of AI? Artificial Intelligence?
Once again, like the man Nobel, and the woman Eve, we in our generation grasp the future with both hands. We ring out the chimes of celebration and sing up a crowing victory yet again; prognosticating for ourselves a benevolent rosy future; with AI arising as the new Great Leap Forward in the history of the evolution of machinery. Like the woman who marries six times and is ready at an advanced age to wed husband number seven; our ‘ triumph of hope over experience’ remains complete and utter. We are hardwired to be foolish in this way it appears.
Our genes or our culture or both seem to keep telling us with every new generation of men and women that now is the time, the dawning of the ‘Age of Aquarius’ when ‘all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’
We might rationalise this feeling by announcing how ‘humankind has grown up and finally come of age’; (The Enlightenment); or by looking to Progress as being in moral and ethical directions as well as in scientific and economic; or that we see now into the soul (Darwin; Freud) and into heart of material being (Hadron Colliders and the Higgs Boson – the foolishly nicknamed ‘God particle’).
Deep down however, so deep that a good deal of people have buried it or otherwise fail to acknowledge it, we are a foolish bunch of narcissistic egoists. Like the friends of Job who came to comfort him but ended up in effect mocking his pain, and bearing the wrath of God for showing him that disdain; Job himself sarcastically sums us all up with:
‘I see you are the people and that wisdom will l die with you’
So, now, if you have read so far and are still with this article; what chance do you give humanity for a proper usage of advanced Artificial Intelligence? Just in case you are still not convinced (self-convicted is the proper state to be in) look at what AI is being developed for and is in use with right now currently.
How much death and pain and suffering; how much prima facie goodwill and benevolent support has been lost needlessly; how much insensitivity and callousness has been expressed in the use of drone fighters in Northern Pakistan in the noughties and up to the present decade? Could such havoc have been scattered better by humans than by machines so that not so much ‘collateral damage’ was wreaked? Honestly: should it have been done at all? And does it not smack of cowardice, that the most powerful nation in the world and having the most advanced weaponry, uses robotic air strikes more or less indiscriminately (in a localised sense) against a nation barely economically developed? And in an area of that nation more or less little removed from the stone age in respect of local technology and education. And with many more victims there being just plain regular guys and gals within their communities; many,many more than the small number of baddies who took a fatal hit.
And then again: the guys who broke Citibank and clicked off the worldwide collapse of economic life in 2007/8 – they were relying on; in fact, before their Fall, they were cock sure about it – and about themselves; relying on AI to spoonfeed their multi-billion buy and sell show on Wall Street and in the Footsie Index. They were happy to give their Computers the marching orders and allow AI thereafter to let shares’ battle commence in what turned out to be the greatest rate of causality since The Somme.
Machines, including AI, are not in themselves malevolent. Frankenstein’s monster was likewise just a misunderstood guy – the people feared him and so they hated him – but he had a tenderness and a pathos which aches in a reader because he was hunted down by them like an animal. He was the enemy; the one who was able to bring into focus in their minds and concentrate upon his person a full and complete release and outlet for their own senses of oppression and injustice. (In all this he is a Type of Christ.)
Everything disturbed repressed in them gushed out in a tidal bore of emotion, whole lifetimes of it, directed at an object (at last!) that had appeared and seemed able to warrant this bearing down on with such violence and ferociousness. Thus, if you can read me aright, when it comes to handling our lives we are too,too, often our own worst enemies.
In another light, it is a single one bad apple which is able to turn the whole barrel. One Hitler, one Vespasian, one Napoleon – and the game is up for humanity in spades. As we advance empirically, and place under our belts ever more and more powerful ways of doing battle or even of doing business or of playing poker for money and with death; it takes just one single grubby thuggish Iago, or Joe Keller to cause mayhem in even greater abandon simply because he, like scum, has risen to the top. Sometimes whole nations follow these flotsam; because Kellers and Iagos are always adept manipulators – of facts, of situations, of others, of money, of power and schemes. Advanced AI in the hands of one such might just get that kickstart it requires so as to be set in motion in a series of events inexorable and unalterable – imagine The Crash of 2008 in terms of megatons, or The Somme re-enacted within a large global metropolis.
It is the departments of defence (a laughable euphemistic descriptor!) all over the ‘civilised’ world which are the financiers pioneering more and greater ways for Information Technology to obliterate us all in civil or military combats and conflicts. AI is led by the organs of destruction.
Just as we went into space and got the non-stick frying pan AI is likely to product driverless automobiles and aeroplanes; robotic surgeons and to generally promise the earth; whilst at the same time it is being exploited for making murderous mayhem in certain corners and pockets of the world; taking stadiums-full of lives totally indifferently whilst saving the odd one or two back home.
And at the same time menial employees are pledged futuristic lives of leisure; that the AI machines will do their work. I recall as a teenager in the 1960s a great and sanguine optimism that swept the world that said by the year 2000 we should all be Rockefellers living the Lives of Riley in great opulence and leisure – everyone I know took it as understood and felt so good about this projected and beautiful future, even the elderly who were to have no part in it. Were our masters kidding only us or themselves also? And is it not the same nowadays? Do we not all deserve to be ruled by smarter-than-the-average-bear machines?