Saturday, July 15, 2023

Humanity and Artificial Intelligence: Building The Perfect Beast?


I've often wonder about our future as a species. In fact, I would dare say that it is almost an obsession of mine. Certainly, if you step back and look at what's happening around us---poverty, pollution, wars for profit, intolerance, terrorism, and so on, it doesn't give you a "warm and fuzzy feeling" does it?  We seem to limp from one crisis to another.

Despite being in the first half of the 21st Century, we still struggle with global famine and poverty, a lack of and access to fresh water, decent minimum healthcare for everyone, as well as the availability of a basic education for those who want it (along with facing off with those who believe that education should be available to just one gender, or race, or class).

In many countries people still live on the streets in cardboard boxes.  Children and adults scrounge around garbage dumps for their next meal and you can forget about any type of healthcare. It looms over us like one of those old apocalyptic movies like Metropolis, Blade Runner, Logan's Run, or 1984, but it's all too real.

We still find ourselves fighting and murdering over whose god is more loving and merciful, while some spend less time praying for seniors, the disabled, or children and more time preying on seniors, the disabled and children. Meanwhile, they oppose any kind of birth control, knowing full well that those who are most likely to have more children are those who can afford them the least, thus leading to more poverty. Where's the righteous in that?

Many of today's faiths follow the letter of their scriptures but not its spirit; trying to apply what was written hundreds or even thousands of years ago, for a different time and place to a world as removed from those days as Mankind is from the sun. To me is reeks of self-importance and ignorance.  I can't imagine that the original founders of today's religions being pleased with what's done in their name.  We've evolved from the days where we once thought that the sky was nothing more than fabric and pinholes.

Certainly we have the technology to take us to the next level in our evolution. We can do things in terms of medicine that were only dreamt of a few years ago, from the  quality of prosthetics to manipulating genes and growing new organs. Every one of us has the sum total of Man's knowledge at their fingertips via the internet. Practically everything that is known is available to us in an instant while the  the world's cumulative knowledge grows not just daily or even hourly, but in terms of nanoseconds.   We have the ability to shape our future in ways that would have been impossible a few decades ago. But are we ready for that?

Let's take politics. What if we downloaded everything we know about politics into a supercomputer, including civil and religious laws, history, philosophy, economics, sociology, taxation, and even tradition and values, then ask the "all knowing" supercomputer to create the perfect political (and by extension, economic and social) system for us to live by? After all, we've downloaded pretty much the sum total of Mankind's knowledge into this computer which is capable of making  200 quadrillion calculation per second, so how hard could it be? 

Is it possible that this piece of super advanced  technology could figure out the best form of government for not just Americans but the best government for all of Humanity to live under? Could it do what eons of philosophers, economists, kings, revolutionaries, and statesmen have failed to do?  Perhaps this supercomputer could even work out a system whereby our societies could evolve at a certain pace while at the same time operating in unison.  Creating our new "god" in the image of the beast---Man. 

What sort of political, economic and social system would it come up with I wonder? Although I can hardly imagine it would, but what if it came recommended a modern feudalistic form of government much like our current Oligarchy whereby ordinary people are beholden to a few elites? On the other hand, it could come back with something similar to a democratic socialist system by which everyone is required to contribute in order to eat, be provided with housing or medical care. It could also recommend anarchy as the best form of government, whereby people either cooperate voluntarily in ad hoc groups or simply function on their own and making the best of whatever opportunity presents itself.

I wonder if we, as either a nation or as species would pay any heed to its recommendations? If it came up with something we already had some preconceived bias against, would we reject it out of hand or would be willing to give it go?  My guess is that, knowing Man's historical arrogance and failure to learn from past mistakes,  we would walk away from it.  

No doubt our "cyber-savior" would recommend that we relinquish complete control over all tools for war, both offensive and defensive as well as control over the economy and our resources in order to provide a more equitable distribution. I can't see the arms merchants of the world going along with that just as I can't see the financial powerbrokers giving up their control over the world's economies.

As an aside, I wonder how ordinary people would feel about being required to surrender all their weapons? Mankind is a violent species. We've been making and using weapons of all sorts since we fell out of the trees on some primeval savannah all those millennia ago and we're pretty darn good at it!

Obviously there's no way our benefactor will allow us to keep our guns, especially if it takes control of the world's weapon systems. Of course, it could simply stop manufacturing spare parts and ammo knowing that we'll eventually run out and our guns will become useless. However, I suspect most will be seized used existing data bases of known owners, although a few might slip through. 

What do you think this supercomputer, full of everything we have about religion, from ancient Sumer to today; every sect, every law or commandment, as well as every philosophy would do about a moralistic system? I wonder if it would select one faith over another, or whether it would create some sort of composite religion and/or philosophy. Besides, religion has been responsible the deaths of billions. it obviously has to be controlled. 

Perhaps it would, when comparing what it knows about science (which obviously must be included in its calculations), religion and philosophy would come up with something we've never thought of. I just might tell us that religion has no place in the world of science and technology, however, I somehow doubt that.  Why?

Mankind, as long as we've existed as cognitive or self-aware species, has always require some sort of moral guide. Although common sense should tell us (and perhaps it does) that doing certain things aren't good for us, we've always required a moral authority to be obeyed. Usually these were put forth by a king or queen. However, they lack longevity thanks to wars, coups, and revolutions. As soon as one king dies, another set of moral guidelines are usually imposed. 

However, if the guidelines are said to come from some divine entity and our failure to obey them would result in some dire divine retribution, we tend to take them a little more seriously. Of course, these  moralistic laws usually came with the some proviso like a king or religious institution as the sole arbiter of these divine laws, meaning you have to obey the king and/or priest in this world to stay on the god's good side in the next (but if you think about it logically, how would they know? Perhaps they're merely using the threat of eternal damnation or eternal reward as a tool to maintain control and order in the here and now).

Therefore, would our supercomputer make the pronouncement "Here are the rules by which you'll live by. Failure to comply will result in the suspension or deletion of your bank account, health benefits or food card for your good, the good of society and social order"? Certainly, any system it created or recommend would have to have a penalty clause in it otherwise what use is it? Perhaps too, it would include some form of reward system too. For instance, if you go six months without a social demerit of some sort, you'll get extra health benefits or bonus points on your food card.

That's something else about us humans. We work best when there are rewards and punishments involved. Again, you would think it was common sense for us to act in our own best interest, either as an individual or society, but we just haven't managed to get that down yet.  That's why we just don't have religious pronouncements, but civil ones too which include fines and imprisonment (or even the possibility of death).  Naturally, this would bring up a whole other issue, could our "HAL" (to borrow from the movie, "2001: A Space Odyssey"), also redesign our justice system?

If our supercomputer master is to create a new political/social/economic system, then it logically follows that a judicial system would have to be included.  What would it look like? Would it be incentive based like it is now or would it be more proactive and attempt to deter criminal behavior starting at or near infancy?

Perhaps we would be monitored in such a way as it would insure that certain "markers" are deleted from our DNA or from a environment. to improve the species otr make it more adaptable. I wonder if it would impose any type of physical punishment; maybe something like jail time or even the death penalty (after all, it would have to know about both the history of civil as well as religious forms of punishment since both have been incorporated into our modern judicial system, and some countries still follow religious guidelines as their civil punishment).

Another possible plus would be that this system would cut down on long trial delays, prolonged appeals, and perhaps even improper sentencing. The statistical facts of the accused could be entered such as age, education, race, gender, religion, orientation, as well as profession and/or social class. Both sides could still plead their case.  Since every form of the legal system---secular and religious---from around the world and down through history would have been inputted, the AI would be able to quickly hear proceeding, automatically delete any evidence not applicable, and render a impartial verdict which would equivalent to the defendant's peers in a way which isn't possible today.

Thus, we shouldn't be too surprised if we find that chopping off fingers or hands are back on the table (so to speak) or we're back to the rack and public hangings. Once more, Man has been a slow learner and nothing gets out attention like an example. Besides, these forms of punishments have been use by nearly every society throughout history and so there's commonality to them which could easily be applied. However, it has the added benefit of providing an incentive to follow the law.

So, what would you think of a future whereby we rely on artificial intelligence to set our political, economic, social, judicial, and perhaps even religious/philosophical boundaries? Do you think we, as human beings, would be capable of following the recommendations handed down by a  "gurgling and beeping" machine? After all, it's only processing our information, both historical and individual. It's not making up its own facts. It's using the information that we've created as a society. Are we capable of following its guidelines?  I can honestly say that I don't know, but my gut tells me no, we can't...or won't.

As a society, we've struggled to follow "laws" supposedly handed down to us by some omnipotent entity allegedly responsible for the creation of the cosmos, what makes us think we'll follow the pronouncements of some machine made by IBM or Apple? We've defied kings and queens who've claimed divine providence just as we've defied populists presidents and strong arm dictators.  Surely they represent the level of authority worthy of obeying; at least for the majority of us. So, what would be different about an overgrown calculating machine?

Well, I imagine any system created by this AI, in whatever form it takes, would dictate that everything be electronic. It's simple, fast and efficient. What's not to like? However, it also means that every one of us would be bound by our own personal zeros and ones. Failure to comply could result in being denied just about anything--- or everything. There would be no one to appeal to; no one to take pity on us. Computers aren't capable of that. They just "follow orders" so to speak.

Same goes when discussing religion or the judicial system. It will show absolutely no compassion. It knows only positive or negative. Zeros or ones. Those will be the chains which bind us. Our ability to shown understanding and compassion is what sets us aside as a species; that and our imagination.  The only way a system like the one described above would have to have built in an failsafe which involves human beings who are capable of showing pity or making exceptions, however, those may be exactly the very things which would make any system designed by a computer fail just as they have helped us survive all these millennia.

Artificial intelligence makes for a good servant, but it must never be allowed to become our master. However, as we become increasingly depended on it to organize and run our lives, it will increasingly come to be our masters. No doubt too that we'll start integrating with our technology. In many ways we already have; LASIK, artificial joints, bioartificial organs, tissue engineering, and regenerative medicine. That's simply the nature of the relationship with technology and it will continue to grow and evolve. Perhaps, in time, we will become Borg. Resistance may be less futile and perhaps more irresistible. 

Meanwhile, artificial intelligence can and should advise us. They can make excellent unbiased recommendations, free from personal biases or emotions, but they should never make unchecked decisions for us.  They are no substitute for what we, as human beings, bring to the conversation. However, as our society and our problems become increasingly complex and grows exponentially, we will find ourselves relying on the beast we've created in our image. But it must never be allowed to be the final arbiter of Humanity.   

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