Morality in the Age of Machines.

Ireland’s John Waters writes,

As things stand, it appears that artificial intelligence, while capable of outperforming humans in certain tasks and reckonings, still requires human supervision. Being neither sentient nor self-aware, AI cannot reflect on its own processes. It gets things wrong, mainly due to insufficient, poor, or confusing inputs, albeit less so than before. Sometimes the problems arise from human bias manifesting in the input data. It seems the AI cannot (as yet?) be taught common sense.

Such teething problems are inevitable, we are told, but the authors pointedly note that “while developers are continually weeding out flaws, deployment has often preceded troubleshooting.” This tendency, they concede, is extremely risky. But also, I would interject, inevitable when things are left in the hands of amoral corporations.

For many years, the pursuit of what is called the technological posthuman has continued at the subterranean level, pushing forward without much pause for check or scruple. The discussion, such as it was, happened in-house at Silicon Valley, and largely had to do with how far things might go before anyone started to wonder why not much about what was happening was being reported above ground. 

The undoubtedly determined march of AI, with or without the Singularity, will change the majority of human lives beyond all recognition, eliminating most human work, creating a form of supra-intelligence to which humans may rapidly become subject on terms lacking accountability or transparency, and essentially demoting humanity to the role of second most intelligent “species” on the planet. We have no idea where this will take us, and we have yet to begin any coherent general conversations about it.

It goes without saying that the “risks” associated with AI have nothing ultimately to do with the inert pieces of metal and plastic comprising the attendant technology, but with the people who will control it. The most important question is: Who should manage this epoch-making moment?

Big Tech already controls the world via the internet, through data harvesting, intimate surveillance, and censorship. Now it moves toward the final stage: the unity of humans and machine, but not on the terms of the human, or at least not the human race. Instead, as usual, the plan is for things to be handled by placing the well-placed few over the befogged many, in the name of progress.”

[With, Mr. Waters says elsewhere, the help of Stalinist-like political correctness, “spell words, hypnoidal smears and ‘cattle prods’” to direct the masses who are wandering clueless towards the cliffs, already immersed in some kind of developing technological Metaverse.]

Read it all…First Things

John Ralston Saul adds,

“Now the death of God combined with the perfection of the image has brought us to a whole new state of expectation. We are the image. We are the viewer and the viewed. There is no other distracting presence. And that image has all the Godly powers. It kills at will. Kills effortlessly. Kills beautifully. It dispenses morality. Judges endlessly. The electronic image is man as God and the ritual involved leads us not to a mysterious Holy Trinity but back to ourselves…

“In the absence of a clear understanding that we are now the only source, these images cannot help but return to the expression of magic and fear proper to idolatrous societies. This in turn facilitates the use of the electronic image as propaganda by whoever can control some part of it. Those who manipulate the shadows that dominate our lives are the agents, publicists, marketing departments, promoters, script writers, television and movie producers, advertisers, video technicians, photographers, bodyguards, wardrobe consultants, fitness trainers, pollsters, public announcers, and television news personalities who create the vast stage for illusion. They are the puppet masters.” —John Ralston Saul, Voltaire’s Bastards