I’ve been thinking lately about the possibility that we might be coming to the end of an era. That era being the age when the dominant viewpoint is to believe in the sanctity of our own agency and role in the world. If anything can be said of our recent actions as a species it is our ability to make destructive, counter-intuitive, biased decisions and perhaps more surprisingly how susceptible our brains are to manipulation. With the rise of AI it seems only inevitable (if not sensible) that we begin to error correct for these ‘faults’ in the Homo sapien operating system. In many ways this process has already begun. How many of us have now outsourced our general knowledge to search engines, our memories to instagram and facebook and our entertainment choices to apps like Spotify and Netflix.
Somewhere between the renaissance and the enlightenment, with the loss of an omnipotent God and no reliable written instructions, it was left up to humans to take control of their own destiny. Human rights, capitalism, the justice system all developed under this new paradigm. We could conquer land, seas and even space. We could cure diseases, create new beings and even clone them. You could be led to believe (as many have) that we have the capacity to do anything!
Yet there are cracks. We are on the brink of environmental catastrophe. The sheer scale of it blows our rational mind and leaves the thinking to the ‘back of our mind’. In some cases we’ve taken to rewriting the rational parts of our brain completely in order to convince ourselves it’s either not happening or it’s not in our hands. If it were an alien invasion movie, it would be as if the aliens landed, made contact, killed a bunch of people but everyone decided to ignore the situation in favour of shrugging or denying what was in front of their eyes. Sure, some of us make a token effort by reusing our shopping bags, but who are we kidding? (ourselves of course….)
Clearly this isn’t the only example, but it’s probably the greatest existential threat to our species so seems like a good kickstarter for change.
So maybe we will change. Maybe we will use new tools, such as artificial intelligence and augmented reality to correct for our biases and misunderstandings. What will begin with small steps will slowly build into a world where it will be not only desirable to outsource the solution to our rash, reptilian brain but immoral not to. This is already becoming apparent with near-future technologies such as driverless cars. In 20 years, it will seem barbaric to actually drive a car because of the risk it puts other people at. It also potentially challenges our existing political systems where the will of the people can lead to self-destructive (or just plain destructive) outcomes. Does technology become the fourth branch, or perhaps the only branch, in the ‘checks and balances’ governing much of the western world?