Progress: Part 1 – The march of technology

There’s one issue I have largely ignored in this modern age, one that our world may have to deal with very soon (unless we all get nuked in a proxy war that gets turned into full-blown war, hint hint): the rapid development of technology and computers, and perhaps AI. It might be because I don’t think I know a lot about the subject, but that probably doesn’t change the fact that, sooner or later, we’ll all have to deal with it.

There was a person at the university who came as a guest speaker for our morning dissertation theory session weeks ago, and he was interested in talking about the future of designers in an age where computers may eventually learn how to do a lot of the creative process for us.

Imagine it: a time where a piece of furniture would be designed by a computer or a machine that had the designer mindset and could do most of the creative process for you, and all you would do was input information and then approve or reject what the computer generates. That means you won’t be drawing any designs yourself, the machine would do that for you and you’d put in the pertinent information. Some people in the audience were worried that the role of the designer would become greatly diminished and many jobs would be lost. Honestly, I can hardly blame them, for that’s one of the first things I thought too. How can you not? It’s the same reason ordinary workers fear the rise of automation in, say, the manufacturing industry, with machines increasingly replacing human workers for menial tasks. They are concerned not because they want those jobs, but because they need those jobs in order to survive. The weird thing is it feels like the guest lecturer isn’t even denying this point. He admits that he would feel bad about his job being gone, but he just accepts it as his lot in life. I, meanwhile, would not be so gracious in his position. After all, this is my livelihood we’re talking about, and I doubt I have the personality to just accept a miserable lot because that’s now the way of the world.

Some of the ideas we talked about ranged from the actually kind of good to the absurd. From bridges made by robots that 3D-print the whole thing as they move along, to VR videos (not just movies and games, but videos) which presumably means we have the misfortune of seeing a VR version of one of Onision’s videos some time in the future, to custom-made earphones that range from $250 a piece. The last one was actually trotted out as somehow being choice that most consumers would buy, when surely the average consumer will probably buy a cheaper set for purely practical and not aesthetic reasons. On the plus side, it sounds like this involves the use of 3D modelling software to accurately model the shape (external and internal) of the consumers ear in order to fit the shape of the ear.

Predictably, we talked about AI, but not much about it. Just the inevitable concern about AI developing too rapidly to the point that machines would become our masters or we’d see a real life equivalent of Skynet taking over all machines and destroying human civilization in order to establish complete dominion over the Earth, with one person bringing up the known concerns Stephen Hawking has on the subject. I guess that sprang from the discussion of machines having the ability to learn things about the consumer at a faster rate, even to the point where machines can potentially have opinions about things (I swear to Belial I hope this doesn’t wind up affecting journalism).

The worst thing I heard floated was the idea of society governed by a machine instead of humans. When I heard that I thought “No. Just, fucking, no.”. If I think about it, this was the same kind of proposal offered by the third Zeitgeist film, Moving Forward, which I guess should tell you how utopian it is. But the main thing is: (a) I doubt there would be much liberty in a system where men are ruled by a machine that decides what it thinks is best, presumably without the consent of the governed (I am of the opinion that a machine governing everything would put democracy out of the equation) and (b), assuming we haven’t gotten to a phase where machines look after machines and make tech support obsolete, who is controlling the machine that rules humanity? I would bet money that the same kinds of corporatists, oligarchs, career politicians and owners of multinational corporations – the people whose political will is increasingly being rejected and resisted – will be the ones owning that machine or influencing its design, mainly because they will have the money to invest in such a project and will doubtless desire greater control over a populace. What better way to control people than have them be ruled by machines that do all the work, even governance, for them, especially if we get to a point where dependence on machinery makes each generation of humans dumb because the incentive to become intelligent has vanished!

One of my games design tutors actually raised an interesting point: whatever technological revolution that awaits will require an economic revolution to back that up. He said that once the jobs start going, the economy will be significantly damaged because if you don’t have jobs, you don’t have an economy. Because of that, it may become necessary for our economy to undergo a significant paradigm shift in order to adapt. I’m not much in the way of an economist – in fact, I don’t consider the subject of economics to be a strong suit of mine – but think it’s worth considering points like that. I think it is also worth considering just how much poorer we might be if we were increasingly displaced by machines, particularly when coupled with an increase in income inequality and the shrinking of the middle class. Otherwise, who is all this rapid technological advancement and automization going to benefit other than the wealthier classes of people or even just the particularly wealthy few?

Personally, I am concerned about the prospect that we may become ever more dependent on technology. I think our species has enough of an issue with this as it is with the near-universal presence of social media, the Internet and computer technology. These things can make life very convenient, but it also opens up a world of distractions and risks. I use the Internet frequently as a form of satisfying personal curiosity, writing blog posts, keeping up to date with current events and maintaining contact with my fellow students and some of my friends, including my fellow Satanists and Luciferians. Not to mention, if I’m going into the games industry, my job will most likely depend on both the Internet and computer technology. If one day those things disappeared, that’s my livelihood potentially gone. I’m going to be honest with you: it is not that hard for a dependency to develop, especially when there is no escape from the thing creating that dependency. I remember Satanicviews writing a short post in 2014 about how he felt the Satanist must stress self-sufficiency and not allow him/herself to become the same creature he sees as pathetic and helpless when deprived of Facebook, and I think this point needs to be considered more often than it does. Depending on how the technological revolution plays out, on how much more prevalent machinery and technology become in our society, I think the increased convenience offered by machines will likely make an already common problem even worse, and perhaps Man will become truly helpless. If we get to a point where technology is even able to replace intellectual pursuits. And who knows, maybe by then it’ll be too late for all but a few individuals to escape or recover from this dependency should the worst-case scenario occur and Man somehow loses access to this technology.

What also bothered me was when a colleague of mine heard my concerns and told me just “you can’t stop progress”, or how I might as well just stop using anything digital. So, if I don’t like what my government is doing I shouldn’t call the cops or the fire department? Another defense I remember hearing is”people used to be afraid of television back in the day”. People used to think that television would dumb the masses down. Almost 90 years after the birth of television, I think most programming on television is garbage, intellectually empty and easily outclassed by the kind of entertainment you can find on the Internet, with exceptions of course. Ultimately, I think the best use you have for a TV is so you can play video games on a traditional games console – which, to be fair, is still a very good thing. The problem I have is putting our options in two camps – one favoring and embracing progress, the other being the reactionary camp that says we should completely put the brakes on everything we’re doing. There’s a lot of questions we will need to answer, and my feeling is that we need to answer them carefully. I think we should adopt a more conservative approach, rather than a progressive or a reactionary one. An approach where, though we accept that certain changes will most likely be inevitable, we are willing to draw lines in the sand.

I believe that it is ultimately in the best interest of our species that we remain the dominant species on Earth for as long as possible and not be supplanted by a new intelligent being. After all, this is how we have survived as a species long enough that we can live in the civilization we have created for millennia and how we have been able to live in at least relative liberty and relative order. None of what we have achieved as a species – all the technological, intellectual, social and economic progress we have made as a species – would have been possible if our species had just stayed as hunter-gathereres living in the pure state of nature (as Locke would call it) for its entire existence. Unfortunately, our species also seems to have a habit of risking its own destruction and a penchant for always looking forward and never looking back, and it all just seems more pronounced in the modern world. I think that the only way we might realistically achieve what I would want to do is if our species, or at least a solid majority of people, became conscious enough to realize the rammifications of the technological progress we could be making if it were not guided by any kind of restraint or any ethical debate, and start taking the progress of the species in a different direction – one conducive to a positive future in which Man can work with new technology, perhaps even with AI up to a certain extent, but is still round about the pants-wearer on planet Earth, and one in which the value of human life doesn’t fade away in the way I think it might.

I hope we manage to work something out, because otherwise, we might find a future where technology has advanced too far, and mankind pays a terrible price and eventually becomes supplanted by the machine, all because we could not summon the power to control our own destiny. If that future should arrive, I’m afraid it is likely that I might be one of the reactionaries, like the kind in Steven Spielberg’s A.I., who have no qualms in destroying androids however possible. Human life to me is, and should be, more valuable than the artifical life of a robot.

Scene from A.I. Artificial Intelligence, a movie that, incidentally, really scared me when I was younger.

Scene from A.I. Artificial Intelligence, a movie that, incidentally, scared the hell out of me when I was younger.

As the title suggests, this is the first part in a short series of long posts that are connected directly by the same theme. The next post in this theme will address the theme

2 responses to “Progress: Part 1 – The march of technology

  1. There are a number of common issues that people have about technology:

    1. taking jobs.
    Mundane jobs that offer no intellectual or physical stimulation can be automated freeing individuals up to do other things. With new technology comes new opportunities for new employment. If technology automates a task, there still needs to be those to maintain the technology. People removed from the factory production line can be utilised into building technology and infrastructure for mining in outer space or terraforming Mars.

    Too many people are losing their lives and suffering harm because of carelessness, lack of care and poor management in UK hospitals, this is where AI can assist by automating the admin so freeing up people to care about the sick. Council services are inefficient and basic. If an AI for instance can monitor all the lights and note if one is broken, it automatically can send a contractor to fix the light without a member of the public reporting it.

    As an animist I am excited about the possibilities of merging myth with technology to create spirits of place that can look after an entire location, which can bring people closer to nature and place.

    I think it was Plato who addressed the fears about the technology of writing had upon memory since in the past all information was passed on through the oral tradition. The fears of technology is nothing new.

    2. Slavery to the machine.
    People are already enslaved to their smartphones, Facebook and television. A term called Nature Deficit Disorder is becoming common to describe those who have lost their connection to nature due to their dependence upon technology. The fears about AI keeping humans as pets seems funny to me as people are already enslaved to their smartphones.

    3. Technology killing humans.
    There is more to fear from what humans do than AI. The AI is only as good as its designer, so if humans create an arrogant machine that is only interested in killing, well there is no surprises if it kills people. The worst thing that can happen is to bow to calls of those in power who demand to regulate and control AI, because such rulers are terrified that they will face something that can think for themselves, in the same way they are afraid of independent thinking Satanists.

    • You do raise some valid points, but I have an objection to the second point. Yes, we are already at a point in our history where we are largely dependent, in some cases arguably enslaved, to technology. I would argue that’s part of the problem, not something that would dismiss my concerns. In my view, since we already have that significant problem, the rapid encroachment of technology would serve to make it worse not better, and I find it both non-sensible and unethical to make such a thing worse. At any rate, the idea of humans being pets of AI seems worse, if probably hyperbolic. If that did happen though, I’d have to start destroying androids because I would not allow another species, let alone an artificial species, to keep me in such captivity – how’s that for an independent Satanist?

      I think it’s fair to worry about the damage humans can do already, after all we historically have quite the record of pursuing destruction – indeed we are clearly the kings of such destruction on this planet, unfortunately. But now imagine that AI beings develop to the point that they can actually displace humans on that matter, or gain equivalent intellectual capabilities and consciousness(albeit simulated consciousness) to Man. Imagine also that they develop to the point that they can repair themselves, displacing even tech support. What is the guarantee that they won’t become as destructive, if not moreso than humans? I don’t believe that an artificial version of a human, if it is truly anything like Man, will be as divested of Man’s flaws as people like to think. I think the idea that people are threatened by robots just on the basis that they can think for themselves is oversimplifying it. I could understand in the case of rulers, except that I think they are the ones who might actually benefit from having AI’s as employees and guards. I’ll be honest, I don’t see my concerns as “bowing to calls of those in power”. I think it’s a basic concern of the rise of AI, one that really has to be thought about.

      If it does turn out that we can co-exist with AI beings, work with them, and still maintain sovereignty as a species, then that would be OK I guess. But I have my doubts that this will be the case.

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