By: Aryeh Schonbrun | Opinions  | 

AI is Here and We’re Losing the War

For many months now I have directed my anger against many groups and people. Against the government, the elites, the rich billionaires (“tycoons” in Israeli parlance), the system, politicians, businessmen, religious figures, pop icons, the barbarous right, the ultra-sophisticated left and much in between. Not that I hate each and every member of our screwy society, I’ve just had to acknowledge that they don’t seem to care very much for my well-being. They don’t show me much affection and I hardly deem it necessary to express much sentiment in return as I encounter my fellow man in the street, on the bus or at the mall.

True, I have found some friends, I’ve experienced some lasting relationships, but, mostly I keep expectations of my fellow at dangerously low levels. I know that if I would express even a slight interest in someone else’s life or interests, I would break all of post-modern society’s moral codes. I would be categorized as invasive, insidious, impertinent, an encroacher, an enthusiast, a provoker, a nudge, a nudnik, a ne’er-do-well, an annoyance, an aggravation or just plain weird. I know this because I’ve tried. It remains nearly impossible to start any kind of conversation today in a public space, not only because of our acute meekness, but also as a result of harsh, cold social conditioning that has progressively dehumanized society as I have grown up.

We live today in a technological paradise, but we live poorly. Fewer people die young, but their longevity threatens the natural balances that have kept nature at peace with humanity’s survival from Day One. We neglect our planet’s biosphere, contribute to what may amount to catastrophic climate change, engage in pointless trade and military conflicts and unnecessarily denude a majority of humanity of livable lives. We horde our wealth in select hands, in select countries, for selected uses and for irrational periods of time. We don’t make use of our resources in a responsible manner, we neglect our progeny and our future selves in search of immediate gratification, we rewrite history, undermine our psyches, hack our lives and destroy our humanity. Our politics have fallen lower than the level of tribal hunters, who at least felt secure within their own groups, and as such we seem to have consciously driven ourselves to our own destruction.

Were it not for our cultural disarray, our logical inconsistencies, our dysfunctional societies and corrupt politics, we might have built a heaven on Earth. Manual labor has been eliminated from much of the developed world and we possess enough resources to allow back-saving artificial machinery to reach even our far-flung cousins across the seas. Scientific and medical research have reached levels undreamed of even a mere hundred years past. We can process information at breakneck speeds, communicate across the vastness of the Earth’s geography and travel incalculable distances at our own whim. A short glance at the richness of human history, or at even the past few hundred years, yields immeasurable troves of human creativity, ingenuity, artistry and imagination, from paintings to music to literature and beyond, and, while they may appear to us as far off and, fantastical, they give today’s generation a glimpse at the potential of a functioning society.

The beauty that managed to escape the ravages of previous generations’ plague, war, unrest and subjugation, such enlightened thought, art and consciousness of the generations of men that preceded us remain with us today. They form the vanguard of the pure, the true and the beautiful that will lead us to our destiny. Imagine if Beethoven would have been able to futz around with a modern recording studio, if Van Gogh were to have painted his world through animated motion-pictures, or if Shakespeare could have learned to rap or the Rambam studied actual science. The great minds and legends of the past combined with the technological and societal improvements of the modern era would propel us into an era of cultural, spiritual and technological greatness! So why do we falter? Why have we lingered in the purgatory of exilic man, subject to forces that threaten his existence? Do we really deserve just President Trump, postmodern art and general banality?

The forces that have contributed to our continued material success have also worked against us. Technology, a blessing in times of peace, quickly becomes deadly in war. As humanity tamed the beast of nature, it developed increasingly destructive powers that would eventually bring the entire world to the brink of extinction. We barely survived the Cold War, we suffered incalculably from the utter devastation of the World Wars and the many conflicts that followed and we continue to carry the scars of modern man’s psychological and societal disasters. Technology, while both a civilizing factor and the reason we have all that now serves us, also came to serve the devil.

Starting in the waning days of the Second World War, and on into the Cold War, our newest technology, the computer, began to develop. It evolved from code-breaking machines to the beasts of computer science mythology into the laptop upon which I now compose this essay: a compact, efficient, powerful piece of technological instrumentation, the culmination of decades of electrical research and engineering which I owe to the great minds of generation’s past and present. I cannot but stand overawed by the great complexity that now serves my lowly occupation and I feel that, compared to even my parent’s generation, I am blessed.

However, I am also cursed with technology’s new vices: the ceaseless violation of my personal life and social sphere, the dehumanizing effects of artificial screens and barriers, the alien nature of today’s society and the cold, intelligent efficiency of today’s system of repression. All of my daily life is now governed by technologically-assisted programming, algorithmic associations and consumerist advertising specs. Whatever I see, hear, do, recall, enjoy and experience is not only harvested by the infinite “live” appliances, applications and apparatuses, but also conditioned by third parties only interested in my life for their sole gain, irreverent of my hopes, dreams and ambitions and uninterested in my fate.

Most of us knowingly involve ourselves in such outrageously manipulative environments, but not as agreeing parties. We are forced into such alienated interactions not as a way of making things efficient, but as contractually obligated parties, legally bonded to this dystopic reality. In order to function today, one must check his social networks, email and news etc. countless times a day, make many of his purchases online, and, of course, indulge himself sexually and emotionally through video games, hook-up apps and pornography. The many websites we visit daily directly use the data we generate to undermine our basic human tendencies, to target our psychological and societal weaknesses and to get us addicted. They do this for many reasons, political, financial and social, but they never ask us what we want. We just don’t matter.

We cannot advise, speak with or communicate with these forces that shape our lives. They will not listen, nor will they allow us to know what they do and how they work. Instead of human connections, we have grown accustomed to the sterility of postmodern silence: the hum of the server farm and the flashes of fiber-optic connectivity have replaced the human connections that we cultivated throughout our long history. We have sacrificed our humanity for “progress,” and that progress now threatens our existence.

We have, to a large extent, given up our ability to control and manage our most basic industries. AI, unable to decipher the underlying human, societal, cultural and moral consequences of major financial decisions, routinely wreaks havoc on society, its people and endangers our future. Without hesitation, the financial AI bots (as of Jan. 2017, 30 percent of the entire stock market had been overtaken by ETFs [electronically traded funds] —Financial Times 1/24/2017) that were created with the sole purpose of making money will continue to push our planet and humanity to/beyond their limits. These super-machines, connected through a cloud of wireless cacophony, don’t much care for our survival. They will survive even a nuclear winter (they control our missiles too!) and/or catastrophic climate change. They cannot suffer and show no interest in our safety. These horrific, cold, evil influences on our economy and society shape our daily lives and dehumanize us. They kill us from within and will patiently wait out our eventual extinction if we don’t act now.

We must pull the plug before it’s too late. Before we have given them access to all of our essential industries, utilities, technologies and weapons. If the lattice of neo-colonialist financial machines continues its march towards world domination, we will not have the resources to salvage our race. As the web grows, humans become prey to the forces of cold calculation, and become harder to save. Our souls die with the bureaucracy that these devils force upon us, and if we shall have any chance in our fight, we will need to act before humanity turns on itself. We need to fight machine with emotion, irrationalism, love and intuition and we must send our sons to fight in the line of fire. Computer science curricula, while heavily defended — they are some of the harshest in all of academia — offer us the only way out. If we do not gather a critical number of hackers, if we shall lack the technological know-how to kill our post-modern Frankenstein, we will all be doomed to the decisions of our corrupt robocrats.

“A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26)

Death to Robocracy! Long Live Humanity!


Photo Caption: Death to Robocracy! Long Live Humanity!

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons