There’s an awful lot of things that can go wrong in this world. Plagues. Natural Disasters. Nuclear war. Ron DeSantis as president. (Seriously, cant we just put Mickey Mouse instead?) Now we can add AI apocalypse to this long list of potential catastrophes.
I recently read an article in vanity fair that left me clutching a teddy bear and sucking my thumb while curled up in the fetal position, which normally only happens after sex. Or when the supermarket runs out of sprinkled donuts. the gist of the article to paraphrase a bit: We’re all going to die because of A I.
If this were coming from some schizophrenic dooms day prepper, it wouldn’t be so scary. But it’s coming from some of America’s sharpest minds. Humans might be “displaced from leading the way, or in the worst case, extinguished entirely” by A I, says David Chalmers, a neuroscience and philosophy professor at NYU. “There is more than a 50-50 chance A I will wipe out all of humanity by the middle of the century,” speculates another leading economist. Physicist Max Tegmark also predicts a 50% of our A I-induced within the next 100 yeaars. The scariest prediction comes from Nate Soares, executive director of the Machine Intelligence Research Institute, a non profit devoted to managing risks posed by AI. “I think there’s a good chance my friends’ kids will never grow up. If I had a child today, I wouldn’t expect to see their 8th birthday.”
Others put the odds much lower: anywhere from 1% to 20% AI extenction by 2100. Still, 20%?
Larry Page, the co-founder of Google, also believes that AI will in the very near future replace us and then decide humans are too high maintenance to keep around. But rather than seeing this as a catastrophe as any normal person would. Page actually welcomes it, believing AI can and should replace us. “It’s just the next step in evolution” he has argued. When people gawk at such assertions he calls them “a “specist” as in your being a bigot for valuing human life over a machines programing code. Remember when Google’s slogan was “don’t be evil?” Little did we know that all this time they meant that more as a sarcastic inside joke.
As for me, I don’t scare so easily… chalk it up to fear dissemination through the repeated terror of having to see myself in the mirror each morning. While a Terminator-like scenario certainly is possible, experience has taught me that the evils of AI are apt to be a bit more down to earth.
AI has already started to replace jobs here in the U.S. and abroad. Among the first employees to go will be tens of millions of people currently employed by call centers. If you thought it was annoying trying to get through to a human before, just wait until there are no humans at all. You’ll be hankering for the good old days when a man in India spoke to you in broken English. Writers, editors, marketers and artists, are also being replaced by AI.
We’re likely to see an exponential increase in AI spam as computer generated fluff continues to drown out effort-driven work. When I recently logged on to Kindle to publish an eBook, I was asked for the very first time if my book was written by AI. Google is already trying to sell newspapers and magazines on the idea of AI generated stories, which begs the question: given the power that media has over our lives, not to mention society as a whole, if the media we consume is AI generated, then who is actually running the show? Considering the problem we already have with tech-driven algorithms amplifying prejudice, hatred and conspiracy theories, I’m more than a little concerned about what happens when AI takes the reins.
As technology replaces human workers, inequality will soar to new heights, just as it has with every major technological advancement in the age of capitalism. And what happens when we outsource human creativity to the machines?
As is typical of the tech industry, companies are plowing full speed ahead with little concern for the consequences. When probed about issues of responsibility, they give the same answer that was given by those who created nuclear weapons: ‘If we don’t do it someone else will.’
As we speak there are serious discussions of using AI to create new viruses, or of giving AI control over military functions. What could possibly go wrong? But beyond these frightening scenarios, there is a much deeper question about the way capitalism is perverting humanity. We’ve been gradually abolishing nature in all its forms, steadily replacing natural life with this artificial construct we inhabit today. In place of touch, sensuality, human connection, and natural pleasures we have brand affiliation, shopping malls, gadgets that consume the majority of our attention, and relationships at a distance through cyberspace. Coinciding with this flight from our natural selves has been a very predictable decline in mental health.
But have no fear, AI is here, and it’s already giving psychotherapy to distressed people as we speak, and artificial solution to the problems created in our artificial existence. There are even AI dating apps where people can outsource romance to a computer-generated avatar. Amidst all of this, I can’t help but wonder: how much more of ourselves can we give away before there is nothing left?
- Nick Bilton, “Future Tense,” Vanity Fair, October 2023, pages 76-81, 104-105