Allison's Reflections

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Blog #0101: 2045: A New Odyssey?

Filed under: Uncategorized — allee at 1:46 pm on Wednesday, October 12, 2016

“I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

Those are the words from the iconic movie 2001: A Space Odyssey that many of us sci-fi nerds reference. But I’ve never paused to consider what I would do if my phone or laptop consciously disobeyed a “command”, or user input. The Singularity seems to make that a very real possibility.

While whether the Singularity will actually happen in the near future is hugely up for debate– after all, Ray Kerzweil and Paul Allen’s opinions seem to be in direct opposition with each other– the potential repercussions of it taking place seem immeasurable. For me, it isn’t a HAL-esque situation of artificial intelligence consciously harming a human being that I realistically fear the most. Maybe it’s because my sci-fi-loving father has made me sit through too many robot attacks with him, but I feel like there is a substantial amount of distress regarding that threat already. Thus, when the point where artificial intelligence gains autonomy arrives, I think innovators and the public alike will be meticulously accounting for it. Because it’s such an obvious potential design flaw, wouldn’t it have been tirelessly addressed ahead of time?

The consequence I feel trepidation towards is perhaps more subtle, but more probable in my opinion. In my Expository Writing class, we are currently studying antimodernism. We read from T.J. Jackson Lears’ No Place of Grace, which discusses the rise of antimodernism during the turn of the 20th century. During this time, Lears asserts that it was common for people to feel “weightless”– driven only by a clock and the promise of capitalism, they were bound to a stifling mold of their own “commodified selves”. Many felt that autonomy, the fulfillment of self and risk-taking, and most of all, the intensity of life were gone. As the Singularity approaches, this same problem, which has continued to exist since, might be exacerbated.

After all, what do artificial intelligence bots know of spontaneity? They are programmed, and that makes everything seem predictable. Thus, “weightlessness” would be built into their systems. And even if AI bots were able to feel emotions, wouldn’t they inherently feel “commodified”, which is a root of weightlessness? If they became members and therefore influences on human society, this feeling might permeate non-AI subjects– us– as well. Even now, our generation is constantly told to “unplug”. I always interpret as an urge to truly live– to never let living vicariously through our screens become a substitute for genuine human connection and feeling. Would this even be an option with omnipresent AI in our lives?

Of course, it’s hard to judge how the Singularity (or even really advanced AI) might psychologically and emotionally impact people. But in a society that’s already so fixated on efficiency and the clock, I can’t imagine this problem being worsened. Would we increasingly suffocate from a lack of meaningful living as we know it today? Or would there be a certain point where we would revert to some of our old ways, even if it meant regressing technologically? Would we even want to after establishing so much reliance on AI by that point in time? I’d love to discuss this idea in our seminar next week. 🙂 Until then!

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