In the last two months I took the time to read Nick Bostrom’s ‘Superintelligence’ and ‘Sapiens’ and ‘Home Deus’ by Yuval Noah Harari. Both are interesting writers and philosophers. They have a fascinating view on the world and possible futures where Homo sapiens have innovated and progressed exponentially. But they also question if it was homo sapiens who made this progression possible or if there might be another explanation. In this note to myself I am going to write down what I think what is going on and what it means to remain human (assuming we will have that option). And as the disclaimer said: these are my own crazy thoughts.
I like to think back to the stories of my mother when she talks about how she communicated with her mother in the mid 70’s and 80’s of last century. She was 17 when she packed her bags and moved to the Netherlands. That is an exciting story on its own but it always interested me that to remain connected to her family she used to record tapes and sent them over the mail (if you don’t know what a cassette tape is, please use your voice assistant). Her sense of personal communication via an analogue medium which took a couple of weeks to arrive at point B was worth the investment of time and resources to remain connected. And let’s not forget it was too expensive to make international calls with low quality.
Fast forward to today, she uses FaceTime, whatsapp and her data bundle (instead of minutes) to stay in touch with her family multiple times a week. I also noticed her shift in expectations in response time, when the other person calls too much OR doesn’t pick up when she calls. This shift took place in only a 30 year timeframe where my mother went from recording tapes and sending those over the mail compared to now where she has a smart phone with data and a couple of apps making connecting as easy as switching on the light.
Your brain, hyperconnection & the mindfulness trend
Our brains are overloaded with processing all the messages, pictures on your Instagram feed and incoming work notifications after working hours (whatever that implies). With each incoming notification you have a decision to make to either accept or ignore and an emotional feeling to process (e.g. happy, sad or stress etc). Apparently each notification triggers a dopamine response in the brain which allows us to feel pleasure and reward. To make it even worse, the prefrontal cortex has a novelty bias, meaning that it desires new ‘experiences’. If we do not get it we can (unconsciously) feel anxious. Mindfulness and yoga promise we can regain control. The mindful techniques are intended to help people calm a busy mind, becoming and staying present and less caught up in a hyper connected state of mind. Doctors advice it to patients as a way to cope with anxiety, depression and regaining focus in daily life. Less commonly acknowledged is the fact that we give up time, focus and the way we interact in real life for shallow online content, shallow connections which in return create an empty void in our real life we in turn try to fill up with the mindfulness movement to regain connection to our authentic inner self. We also don’t want to acknowledge we rather would be connected online compared to connecting in real life with others. This 3:49m video explains this point very well.
The rise of Artificial Intelligence
I had the privilege to listen to Kjell Nordstrom at a summit earlier this year. A couple of his remarks sticked with me such as:
- Technology is nothing more than frozen knowledge (currently an app has some intelligence when you decide to use it);
- The total knowledge of the world doubles every six months;
- Exponential growth of human knowledge makes us all amateurs because no single being has the capacity to understand one domain, we all need help.
In relation to the above the earlier mentioned authors believe that everything is a transaction that holds data, which also means that it can be captured in an algorithm. We call this Artificial Intelligence (AI).
You might not realize it but every time we do a Google search, swipe left or right in an app or share your feelings on Facebook you unconsciously improve the underlying algorithms in such a way that it will better understand you than you yourself. All these separate algorithms combined eventually come together understanding humanity better than we understand ourselves.
This is the crazy part I guess, humans have the tendency to think linear but we’re living in a remarkable time where innovations are going faster than our human mind can understand. Each of us is contributing to those developments by our hunger for convenience, our drive for consumption (information, things, food, experiences etc), our usage of apps and improving our personal situation because we believe that’s the goal of humanity. We’re basically becoming binary beings where AI decides what we should do next based on rich data instead of the other way around. When ‘things’ become smarter than yourself we have a tendency to follow, because they’re probably right.
Are humans necessary
I don’t know. AI as we know it came into existence around 1960 and since then society has created more jobs because of technologic advancement, that’s a fact. Regardless what we think we live in the most peaceful time in history (media might have you think otherwise). A more scary fact is that the gap between poor and rich is becoming bigger and resources are not distributed equally (food, money, energy or knowledge etc) slowly creating a situation where people are connected and others are living off the grid. On the other hand a more understandable fact is that with the aforementioned trends of mindfulness you and me are treating the symptoms instead of the root causes. I believe arts, ethics and philosophy should get a more prominent place in our current society to help AI truly benefit humanity and not give in to the needs of our own laser focussed reality and reap the so-called benefits and avoid having to deal with other possible outcomes, whatever that may be.
What a time to be alive..