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Sunday, June 26, 2016

A.I.: Digital Utopia or Robot Apocalypse?

It took millennia for Humanity to advance from the Stone Age to the Industrial Revolution. A couple centuries from that point, we transitioned to the Information Age. The pace of Human development continues to rapidly accelerate. The next Revolution is already overtaking society before many are ready for- or even aware of it.

Some call it the Utopian ‘Dawn of Artificial Intelligence’ or (conversely) the ‘Birth of SKYNET’ and the coming Robot Apocalypse. Both diametrically opposed predictions curiously are based on the premise that Humans will blithely give up control to either benevolent or diabolical machine ‘overlords’. There are arguments for both extremes, and both sides raise enough valid questions provoke meaningful dialogue on AI ethics and control. While History reminds us that extreme people and ideas often provide valid counterweight to over-enthusiasm and even zealotry from opposing people and views, they usually tend to be mere lane markers for History’s true road.

Let me propose a Third Way. Call me an optimist, but we humans have always been survivors. Pushed to the brink repeatedly (most recently by our OWN hands!) we have not only survived, but thrived. Troubled times and massive changes are instinctively resisted by most of people- it’s human nature. This adaptability to change, crises and turmoil has conversely become our greatest strength. Human Ideas have always used technology to adapt, change and overcome.

Welcome to the Idea Age.

We are not about to be totally subsumed by AI, nor will Humans be freed from all our cares and woes. What we are experiencing is what we have ALWAYS done: Inventing, adapting and overcoming. We are ready to harness amazing advancements in many new technologies. Be it AI, Virtual Reality, Brain-Machine direct interfaces, or 3D-Printing, Fusion Power or Gravity control, what we are about to witness will be more life and society-changing0 than anything else in Human memory. Many advances are creeping into our lives. Self-driving cars, Digital Assistants, Robot Home-Care for elderly and disabled. What is already here is amazing. Ask any advanced Fighter Pilot about how High-G blackouts are managed by AI anticipating actions and implementing them. Or how effective hands-off, brainwave tech allows for an enhanced and more productive experience for many military applications.

With advanced 3-D Printers, we have moved beyond plastic and metal tools & food to printing human organs and transforming Martian regolith to habitable communities. How soon before a Star Trek-like Replicators moves from Sci-fi fantasy into everyone’s home? Amazon will soon deliver your new Home Fusion Reactor to your printer in 3.65 seconds. Scientists are close to cracking the Physics Riddle of Fusion Power. Soon, safe distributed energy will be the norm from Bangalore to Brooklyn. And beyond.

But what will humanity do to take advantage of this once near-magical technology? The Information Age, where concerns about power, cost and other previous limitations, will be a distant memory. Whether you want to create the first Martian Space Elevator, or provide electricity, water and HOPE to Central Africa, you will only be limited by the boundaries of physics and your own imagination. There will be less Human oppression of others merely to survive. Though oppression will always be a bane to human society, we can greatly reduce that unwanted aspect of human behavior by freeing as many as possible from hopelessness and desperation. Even as people inevitably seek to enslave others both figuratively and literally, the fruits of the AI Revolution will mean more and more people will have the ability to free their bodies and minds from the shackles of poverty, exploitation and oppression.

Human advancement also means mastering the interface between Humans and machines. Through the exponential worldwide spread of Smart Phone technology and ever cheaper communications satellites, Human communication and the spread of Ideas and information has already transformed the daily life and interactions of every individual on the planet, whether they use the technology or not. The thirst for faster, easier and more complete access to information has accelerated, as has the trend toward further personal integration of humans and machines. Already advancing in the fields of Organic Computer displays and storage methods, full biological integration with AI will open up immense opportunities for all. Imagine meeting or just THINKING about someone and having that person’s digital existence being accessed and displayed instantaneously on either a heads-up display or a direct signal to your brain.  Working on a job and having that necessary instruction or fix at the tip of your mind. Pondering deep scientific, Social or Philosophical ideas- and having instantaneous access to the greatest minds on the subject. Even recalling the song you were sang as a child to pass on to your grandchildren.

Now, there MUST be parameters to protect privacy and our very sanity in implementing such revolutionary ideas and processes. People will rightly demand protections for the individual, as Governments and Corporations will seek power and advantages (as they always do). But we must not be afraid of the future. We need to embrace it, consume it and make it our own. Human ingenuity and adaptability has always triumphed over chaos and change.

Change is ongoing, accelerating and inevitable. But Humanity shall overcome our baser instincts, and adapt, and AI will become just the latest rung in the stepladder for Human Advancement.