The AI Future? - Some Book Reviews...


I've been re-reading the book 1984 by George Orwell, originally written in 1948 not long after the end of Second World War around the time the horrors of the recently defeated German Nazi regime were becoming common knowledge. I consider this book to be one of a triad which also includes Animal Farm by George Orwell (1945) and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1917) depicting the dark side of human nature and the proclivity for humans to choose options that benefit ourselves even though we know that they may go against the common good. 

I went back to these classics after reading more modern day versions printed along the same theme. All great, eye opening works - Sapiens and Homo Deus both by Yuval Harari, The Dictator's Handbook by Mesquita and Smith and Gestapo by Jacques Delarue. They portend remarkably similar societal outcomes to the original triad books based on the same basic human instincts, even though they were written and published decades apart. 

The message they all send is not particularly a good one. All books profile future societies that have given up the freedoms and individual thinking that we presently claim characterizes the human species and that we pay great lip service to as being our inalienable societal right. They show clearly that the result of lack of action to vigorously protect these freedoms will be societies where we are controlled totally by outside forces, leaving us a life of meaningless pantomine to demonstrate acquiesence or shallow "pleasure" where we ignore and accept our loss of control. 

All of the books are deadly serious. They are not meaningless science fiction novels with superheroes, quests and triumph over evil outcomes. Frighteningly on reading the descriptions of past human behaviour (Gestapo) and predictions of future behaviour one can easily agree that we are presently on a path towards the loss of our treasured freedoms and personal identities. 

1984 and Brave New World place the blame for their worlds on the behaviour of overbearing political systems that exert complete control over their citizens through terror and / or brainwashing techniques. Animal Farm and the Dictator's Handbook both show the methods used to gain control over the citizens and how our leaders / politicians continue to hold on to the reins of power once they gain them. Gestapo shows the depts mankind will go to in order to carry out the darkest desires of the controlling regimes. Finally, Sapiens and Homo Deus show historically how homo sapiens came to control the earth and how our activities are leading to a lessening of the importance of the human being in preference for systems that organize, monitor and control our lives (think Alexa on your night table versus the Telescreen on all walls in 1984). They are all warnings to be taken notice of. 

So, before your eyes glaze over (happens to me a lot), what am I actually trying to say? Perhaps I should quote Julia, a child of the 1984 Revolution who rebels by having an affair with the hero Winston, when he observes her attitude towards the Party that literally scripts her daily life

 "She only questioned the teachings of the Party when they in some way touched upon her own life. Often she was ready to accept the official mythology, simply because the difference between truth and falsehood did not seem important to her". 

The present danger, as clearly outlined in Sapiens and Homo Deus, is the growing influence of biotechnology and artificial intelligence over our everyday lives. Still in its infancy biotech and artificial intelligence promise to dramatically improve the quality and length of our lives such as through its expansion of computer based individualized  health care as well as by displacing other disciplines such as auto and truck drivers, pharmacists, doctors, lawyers, judges, prison guards, stock brokers, teachers, soldiers, clerks, travel agents, pilots - Get the point?  These and many more human based systems won't be able to compete with systems that can handle massive data in real time and learn at the same time to do things better. Humans will become redundant. We will be free to enjoy a new life of leisure as our systems take the drudgery of daily existence away.

The problem is that after improving our basic health the natural course of action is to use our new knowledge to create bio-enhanced  "superhumans" and then beyond that to question whether humans are indeed even necessary to maintain society when they reach a point of "non contribution" to society as a whole. A superhuman based new world order? Brave New World anyone? - Timeline? - Anyone's guess, but perhaps much shorter than we would like. 

Can't happen right? How many of you have Alexa or its counterparts in your houses? Is it just a novelty or is it progressively taking over the drudgery and the detail of your daily lives. Is this a good thing? Do you really think that the data you generate is yours? We see daily how this so called personal data has been penetrated and violated. We recently learned that indeed the companies behind the personal assistant market (siri, alexa, etc.) have been collecting our conversations and using them to "improve" the systems themselves (go to your privacy settings immediately). Today's systems are still crude but the path forward will only improve and strengthen them. We're the test subjects - our children's children might be the final result (have you seen babies in strollers holding cell phones lately - I have).

Personally, I'm kind of glad I'm old.


Please note: these images and the discussions surrounding them are easily found on Google. I'm not even going to attempt to make a bibliography because this isn't a scientific paper, it's an opinion piece. If you doubt me go search them out. The exercise is quite revealing.