Quo vadis? 151

Where are you going, humankind?

The future now being shaped by new technologies seems to scare some of the very people who know most about them.

These extracts are from an article by N.M.Guariglia which we find somewhat incoherent, in that it dodges about from subject to subject, and needs more explanation than is given; but it predicts amazing technological developments and it is grandly eschatological:

The reaction to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) was heartening. In just a few days, the American people were able to compel Congress to shut down SOPA, a terrible piece of legislation. My congressmen wrote me saying he was sorry, didn’t know what he was thinking. Of course, on the discouraging side, in order for the people to care or even know what was going on, it took huge Internet companies like Wikipedia, Reddit, and Google to publically protest the would-be law. SOPA and its Senate cousin, the Protect IP Act (PIPA), were at their core Internet censorship bills. Hollywood and the entertainment industry, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) — now run by former Senator Chris Dodd of Fannie Mae-Freddie Mac fame — embarrassed themselves and wasted millions in lobbying for the legislation. In response, we had the largest online protest in history. And it was successful. …

We too are glad of that.

The intent of SOPA/PIPA was to centralize cyber-security under the auspices of the federal government in order to crack down on “piracy” and copyright infringement. In doing so, the American people’s liberty would have been undermined, freedom of information would have been threatened, and existing and adequate copyright laws would have been circumvented and ignored. It would have been a litigator’s dream. Worse, the legitimate issue of cyber-security — more so: the nature of the future itself — would have been entirely overlooked, as it is currently misunderstood.

The nature of the future? Currently misunderstood? He goes on to talk about it in a way that is fascinating but obscure to technological laymen like us:

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting one of the heads of security for Raytheon — very interesting guy. “When ones and zeroes are involved, offense will find a way to win,” he said. Encryption defenses may work for a time; they may even get better. But that will require decentralization. Impenetrable information security will be sustained in a space off the grid. “When we go from mega-, giga-, and terabytes to peta-, exa-, and zetta-, we’ll be entering a brave new world of the infinitesimally small. And then there’s the quantum world.”

Yes, the quantum world. When one considers the future of this century, there are at least three existential threats.

The first is traditional in scope: the possibility of great-power warfare (with China, perhaps). This is least likely, I believe, due to old-established Cold War principles amongst rational actors: deterrence and mutually assured destruction.

More likely, at least in the nearer future, with Iran. The mullahs and many devout Muslims do not, it is said, fear destruction because Islam “loves death”.

The second threat: the probability of a terrorist organization smuggling and detonating a nuclear device in an American city (and the incomprehensible aftermath).

A suitcase nuclear bomb? Yes, such a thing has been spoken of for decades.

And then the third: “GNR.” Genetics (biotechnology), Nanotechnology (quantum science), and Robotics (Artificial Intelligence; A.I). GNR is riding the wave of information technology and its exponential growth. You take 30 steps linearly, you’re at 30. You take 30 steps exponentially, you’re at a billion. This is what’s come to be called the Singularity: the scientifically foreseeable point in the near-to-medium-future in which human beings have created technological intelligences so intelligent — billions of times more intelligent than today’s strongest computers — and so subatomic — as small to an apple as an apple is to Earth — that we will have created nothing less than nano-gods.

Nano-gods?  Because they’ll be so “intelligent”?

These gods will then enter our minds. Probably by way of eye drops.

Gods will enter our brains through our eyes?

Do not misunderstand. There is much promise in this — clearly. But there is also great peril. It is a deeply philosophical discussion. A man either comprehends this trajectory, and prepares for it, or puts it out of his mind. The implications are enormous. Will this transcendence expedite our evolution, or will it destroy our individuality, our liberty, our humanness?

With gods in our belfries we wouldn’t be human in quite the same way as we’ve known human to be, would we? And if all the gods entering all our brains through all our eyes are the same, our individuality would be considerably diluted. As for our liberty – that would depend on the values of our immanent gods.

And how should we prepare for “this trajectory”?

Could either the users or preventers turn tyrannical? Who will guard the guardians? Will attempts to control and regulate these technologies succeed in accomplishing precisely the dystopia we may fear the technologies themselves will create? Will we merge with these intelligences or will they be distinct entities? Does the future need us at all?

Well, at the very least, the way he’s projecting it, the future will need our eyeballs. And our brains to start with, though after that they’d never be the same again.

But whether we keep such intelligence as we have now, or exchange it for the intelligence of nano-gods, it seems we are doomed because intelligence per se is a killer.

Life is rare; intelligent life, infinitely rarer. The silence of the universe conveys “the high probability that advanced civilizations destroy themselves… intelligence may be the most cursed faculty in the entire universe — an endowment not just ultimately fatal but, on the scale of cosmic time, nearly instantly so.

Even for gods? Perhaps we shouldn’t bother with the eye drops then.

There seems to be a sense amongst humanity that something big is right around the corner, something unequivocal.

“Unequivocal” meaning final?

Collectively, we’ve taken to apocalyptic and supernatural assumptions.

Was it not always thus with many human beings?

Nearly half of Americans think the Rapture will happen by mid-century.

Nothing new there.

Hollywood, ironically, has stoked along these ideas. It won’t be found in the Mayan Calendar, but rather in [Carl] Sagan’s Cosmic Calendar. It won’t be coming out of the clouds, but rather into our brains. This is it. This is where we are and this is where we’re going.

Where exactly?

Disappointingly, he does not say. He jumps back to the Sopa and Pipa threats.

Information is power. It is …  an infinite resource on a finite planet. As free people, we should encourage the dissemination of information technologies under one condition: our security and liberty are not endangered. In the future, the government may assume undue authority and force information companies into subservience for authoritarian reasons, or these companies, in trying to avoid total subservience, and in trying to destroy their competition without competing, may preemptively give the government what it wants. This is not free-market capitalism, nor is it humanism. This is a form of fascism. …  SOPA and PIPA were just two more examples of this troubling trend.

This will be the most consequential century in the history of life on Earth. Technology is man’s greatest invention. It is a fine servant, but a most dangerous master. We should neither concede its control to a central authority nor prove to become dependent on it, for we will have sullied both human integrity and individual liberty. The next president, to his surprise, will likely have to address the potentialities of transhumanism, both good and bad, and so he will not have time for the little things our cheap culture will seek to put him through.

“Transhumanism”? Our transitioning into gods? What little things will he not have time for – reducing the national debt? Stopping Iran mounting a nuclear attack?

And how is our culture “cheap”? As compared with what other culture? Or does he mean we would be cheap if we demanded that he address the problem of the national debt rather than oversee our transition into gods?

While we think a little more human intelligence, of the ordering and explaining kind, could have been applied to the composition of the article, we are grateful to the author for the fun it has given us.

It may not inspire us to engage in a deeply philosophical discussion. We confess we do not comprehend “this trajectory”, have no idea how to prepare for it, and will soon put it out of mind. But we’ve enjoyed it while it lasted.