Monday, February 16, 2015

how to avert the coming robopocalypse

When such notables as Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and Bill Gates come out publicly in favor of panic over the rise of our Robot Overlords, we really ougtta pay attention... but we also probably won't. This is because the human brain is wired in such a way that it cannot actually comprehend the trajectory of exponential growth. And exponential growth is exactly what's happening right now in the technological worldcatapulting us at breakneck speed toward The Singularity.

The Singularity, wikipedia tells us, is "the hypothesis that accelerating progress in technologies will cause a runaway effect wherein artificial intelligence will exceed human intellectual capacity and control, thus radically changing civilization.

Sounds like science fiction, right?

I mean, what's the worst that could happen? So we find ourselves living in a world where humans become so tech-integrated that they completely detach from reality and spend their lives in service of corporate interestsso what?



We're already almost there, right? And it's not like we can't opt out of that nonsense, if we want.

So why are these super-smart-guys getting all freaked out about something that's no big deal? I mean, the projected date of The Singularity is only, like, twenty-five years away from now. How much can actually change in that time?

Well, a lot.

Twenty-five years ago, I was ten years old. If the internet existed back then, I didn't know about it. Nobody had cell phones. Nobody was seriously talking about self-flying robot drones that could be equipped with guns to shoot you in the head through your tenth-story window, or self-driving cars that could be hacked remotely via satellite and told to drive you off the nearest cliff, or into the nearest crowded outdoor event.

Those things are real now, though.
The Robopocalypse is nigh.

It is not, however, inevitable.

If we're going to talk about singularity, we should also mention the singularity-of-mind that afflicts technology-oriented scientists, who it seems to me tend to focus on the exponential growth of technology to the exclusion of all else. But there are a number of other factors currently at play in the world that could slow or even stop the coming Robopocalypse, and it's in these things that I find a twisted sort of hope.

One - Ecological Disaster: 

Infinite growth is impossible in a finite system. We've long been fouling our own nest, and eco-trashing is increasing at the same exponential rate as the rest of our technological "progress." So it's possible that before the robots get a chance to take over and use us as power sources (the human body produces enough energy in half an hour to boil water), we'll have created an eco-disaster of such staggering proportions that our tech "advances" will grind to a halt.

Two - Political Disaster: 

A possibly-inevitable result of the democratization of the internet is that it promotes and encourages the creation of us/them dichotomies. In a world of devices that seemed designed to cultivate a sense of alienation and loneliness, we're going to need heavier and heavier doses of Other-attacking to buoy our sense of Self. So... War. More and more war. And while the machinery of War is also the machinery that pushes and grows de-humanizing technologies, it is also possible that we could bomb ourselves back to the stone age before the Robopocalypse has a chance to fully bloom.

Three - Economic Disaster:

Even if we don't nuke our way out of the coming Robopocalypse, it's also possible that the staggering growth of income inequality will actually do what economists keep saying it will dowhich is to destabilize governance and, ultimately, lead to wide-spread revolution and societal disintegration.

My personal best guess?

I think that all three of these factors will come into play over the next twenty-five years. And I think that the current Overlords of this dystopia in which we find ourselves (the financial global elite) will realize what's happening and will do what humans (especially mildly-sociopathic ones) have always done in moments of crisis—they'll look out for themselves, and for their families. 

I think that it is these people who will usher in the Robopocalypse, as they attempt to use it to their own advantage. 

Seeing themselves as qualitatively superior to the rest of us, they'll wield their vast power to create a new, robot-controlled social reality in which the rest of us shift further and further into willing slavery—bought with a few shiny baubles. We'll keep delighting in the latest iPhone and dying young of cancer and diabetes, while nanotechnology prolongs their lives and they move under a luxury eco-bubble somewhere in Greenland, sucking the teat-of-the-world dry and leaving the rest of us to choke to death on the poisoned remains. 

Until, of course, the hyper-intelligent robots realize that humans are the problem and kill us all. 

We do not have to accept the Robopocalypse, though. 

It is not inevitable.

We can stop. 

We can breathe. 

We can think.

We can leave behind our fear and choose instead to love, and to treat each other with love. 

This means no more posting on Facebook about those idiots on the other side of the aisle. This means no more jet-setting and no more non-recyclables, and no more thinking of the world as our own, personal toilet. This means eschewing the valueless values of unchecked capitalism in favor of something kinder and gentler. 

My hope isn't that we'll nuke ourselves back to the stone age and avert the Robopocalypse. It's that we'll realize that all our current options are bad ones, unless we're willing to drastically change our approach.

Choose love, instead: radical, self-sacrificing, fear-abandoning love.

Is it possible? Yes.
Is it likely? Absolutely not. 

Prepare for the Robopocalypse...

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