As technology has evolved, mankind has benefitted handsomely from the many improved systems and labor-saving devices which have afforded them a higher standard of living. These devices have enabled workers to become more efficient and more productive, and they’ve afforded investors the capital to expand operations, develop technology, and innovate for continued improvements. However, there are hidden costs and risks attending the evolution in technology. Whereas technology and economies of scale have enabled workers to boost their incomes, and to enjoy more time in leisure, the people have, in the course of so much ease and convenience, lost sight of the risks attending technology; the risks of surrendering so much to the machines and the systems. Once built to make life easier, those machines and those systems come to define life altogether, in some cases even ruling over it. These risks are nowhere more apparent than in the technologies designed around artificial intelligence (AI).
Just as any scientific study demands a complete enumeration of assumptions, so too must any honest study account for risk. This is especially important in the field of economics, where the implications are as serious as the consequences can be irreversible. All proposals and enterprises introduce risks and tradeoffs, and the same is true for artificial intelligence. In the case of AI, the risks and the tradeoffs are manifold: among others (1) the minimization of humanity and spirituality; (2) the further severing of ties between man and nature; (3) the speed of change in excess of human ability (and consequently social ability) to vet, audit and account for the implications (and, just as importantly, the critical assumptions driving artificial intelligence and producing outcomes; failures stemming from a distinct inability to keep pace with such rapid change); (4) the calculated regimentation of society at the diminishment of individual liberty, discretion, and preference; (5) the development of unfounded trust between man and machine, at the expense of man’s own ability to think and operate for himself; (6) the relinquishment of critical thought and critical decisions to elaborate systems, protocols and processes which, at some future date, may not present the same measure of fidelity, at which time most will lack the insight and prowess to identify the faults, let alone control the fallout of such an enormous and complex system having usurped authority over the thinking and behavior of society; (7) the assertion, eventually established, that artificial intelligence has no bounds, that it presents a superior alternative in every case, and that man’s creativity, compassion and judgment can be replaced with limited or no adverse effects on his quality of life; (8) the rejection of the subjective, the nuanced, the romantic, the poetic, the existential, the spiritual, and the artistic aspects of life which, for the aspirant, come to define life altogether; and (9) the eventual conclusion that, as Marx so dangerously promulgated, "Society does not consist of individuals, but expresses the sum of interrelations, the relations within which these individuals stand."
The question isn’t whether AI offers utility. The question is whether civilization can tolerate its faults at the Nth degree; whether man can cede that much authority without succumbing to its rule. This happens in subtle ways, not as one might imagine because of Hollywood. In my view, AI solves problems in the way that porn solves man’s sexual frustrations; in the way that online encyclopedias displace actual research and original sources; in the way that online tutorials enable people to solve problems (or find workarounds) without an understanding of the problems themselves; in the way that social media has made us more connected but less meaningfully so; in the way that digital media improves upon print media but, in many cases, makes it more difficult (not less) to get to the truth. The principal issue with the latter, as with the whole, is the speed with which information spreads, and therefore the speed with which people and their minds are satisfied.
It is also true that information has come to spread more quickly than the pace of literacy, and that people, with improved printing and distribution, have become better informed without necessarily becoming more enlightened. In the unending chase for information and cheap entertainment, people have become frantic and anxious, always searching for that next news item or their next thrill, and always ready to be brought into a frenzy. With the frequency of communication and the sheer volumes of information, people haven’t the energy nor the time to scrutinize the details, as they’re simply too busy trying to keep up. As a result, more often than not, we are left with two primary camps: the first running with the headlines, and the second taking sedatives. Meanwhile, still another, albeit a strict minority, patiently examines the information and weighs the options. All the while the wheels keep turning, the world keeps moving faster, and the first of the camps continues its crusade.
The implications for communities and interpersonal relationships are just as serious: whereas mentorship once fostered relationships between people, online resources and applications, having staked their claim on all of the answers and all of the best entertainment, suggest that there is nothing left to learn from our fellow man. With that, one’s fellow man comes to personify incompetence, to be regarded as nothing more than a nuisance, an imbecile, or the butt of a joke. So, as man has dispensed with mentorship, so too has he dispensed with the civility and respect which once defined civilization, and which once made it hospitable.
Besides the social risks posed by artificial intelligence, it is also a matter of whether mankind can exercise enough caution to respect and maintain its limits, to keep government, which always benefits disproportionately from technology, from abusing its powers; whether people, brought directly into competition with AI, remaining disadvantaged by government through taxes and regulations, can live healthy and wholesome lives under conditions and demands of such rapid change and development; whether people possess the ability and the fortitude to rein in this technology when it becomes abusive of its ends; or whether that technology, over such a sprawling society ever short on virtue, will merely hasten its demise.
The 2022 blockbuster film “Top Gun: Maverick” offers a brilliant exposition of this theme: man vs machine; putting the heart back into the cockpit, where critical decisions are left to a sentient human being who, as opposed to any computer, experiences pain, regret, and guilt; who can likewise experience triumph and fulfillment and therefore offer accurate value judgments, a function (by nature and definition) not possible through AI. Indeed, it is the human being, through his intuition, his compassion and his judgment, who creates and yet acknowledges the dangers and the limits of his creations; who, in sighting a fellow human being in the crosshairs, possesses the capacity to respect life and to spare the world the uncompromising wrath of systematic suffering.
Through just this kind of human judgment we invariably arrive at the conclusion that fulfillment, as a human being, is chiefly a function of one’s toil in the development of one’s own ideas and property, for the benefit of his own loved ones, namely his family and his heirs. This is precisely why so many people are so anxious and depressed in the modern world: they lack this kind of fulfillment, where they instead deal in the abstract or serve large, bureaucratic institutions whereby the product of their labor measures in dollars (contemporarily in digital terms, yet another abstraction) and the approval of their bosses; where they fill the void left by their unfulfilling work with mindless entertainment, if only to keep themselves preoccupied to pass the time.
As opposed to failing and learning for oneself in the development of his own ideas and his own property, and instead of being accountable to (and responsible for) oneself and his own family, the modern man has been made accountable to (and responsible for) people whom he neither knows, nor trusts, nor cares about, serving as a pawn or a cog within a greater apparatus. This is manageable to an extent, but insofar as it begins to journey into the abstract, where the underlying factors and assumptions become too remote or esoteric, it presents risks that will, in time, be met with progressively less scrutiny and understanding; factors that will keep the people from asking questions and probing for answers, as they (the people) seek to avoid failure (and humiliation) as measured against the “perfect” standard. This means a diminished capacity and growing disinclination to properly assess protocol and outcomes on the basis of sound value judgments.
Just as we observed in the wake of lockdowns (as in “two weeks to flatten the curve”), a number of politically-connected so-called scientists erred in failing to account for the bigger picture, the unknowns, and the social consequences. Even where we might accept the efficacy of such measures as lockdowns, which we shouldn’t (given the lack of positive proof in the face of contradictory evidence published well ahead of 2020), a thorough study must account for the assumptions, the unknowns and the foreseeable consequences on the whole.
If there is one thing that lockdowns proved about society, it is that it cannot tolerate them without serious ramifications. The same must be said about social media and technology such as smart phones and tablets, which have significantly degraded people’s interpersonal relationships and their patience for meaningful research, insight and conversation, in favor of instant gratification through Google searches, short video clips, and short tidbits of information on their news feeds. Along with other factors, this has also had the effect of destroying our sense of community, our sense of family, and even our desire to figure things out for ourselves. After all, Google and Wikipedia appear to have the answers; but, in truth, they don’t. For evidence of this, look no further than two separate Wikipedia pages which place Lee Harvey Oswald in two separate places at the same time on November 22nd, 1963.
Whereas individuals, clergy, wisemen and parents, among others, were once heavily involved in children’s education, even this has been outsourced to an abstract bureaucracy whose merits are dubious, and whose practical value is questionable in the view of so many students, partly because they cannot see how their lessons apply in real life; and part of that is due to the fact that their parents can no longer show them how they apply, because they too operate in a bureaucracy in service to the abstract. In my personal view, fulfillment in life is the result of a man’s laboring to figure things out, to leave a legacy, and by that to leave an inheritance (both tangible and intangible) to be further developed by his heirs.
On the subject of learning, it’s not just a matter of learning methods and protocols (or simply reciting what you’ve been told), but, in the case of innovations and novel discoveries, figuring out how to think for yourself. In the absence of this, we’re not only stripped of the potential for personal fulfillment, but doomed to social ruin.