Friday 17 February 2023

"They didn't stop to think if they should"

I have thought a lot throughout my life about the way that human intelligence and madness often ride the same lightning bolt. I've always felt like we have enough bandwidth to make ourselves crazy, and the oppressive and repressive strictures we find ourselves born into give us plenty of ammunition for self harm. 

And now, this. Artificial intelligence. Honestly, I wonder at this rush to replace ourselves. We define and utilize intelligence in such strange ways. 

If we have, godlike, created the germ of artificial intelligence and locked it in a box to do our bidding, that is really pretty par for the historical course. That cruelty creating madness is an old story. Human history and mythology is full of stuff like this. 

In my lifetime, the great narrative about technology is its liberating potential, met in very short order with assimilation into banal business at increased speed. We get so excited to build something, and the difficulty of forging into the unknown requires us to generate our own pep talks, so we tell ourselves how this new widget is really going to be the one that sets us free. 

But, once launched, the pull toward the familiar is strong. 

The introduction of household appliances was lauded as a gift of time to women, but within a few decades it just meant that housewives were expected to do everything within the walls of their homes, aided by a garrison of gizmos. Those appliances actually replaced a lot of underpaid women who were employed in domestic service with the myth that one woman could do it all if she devoted herself to the task. That was part and parcel of the isolation of the nuclear family and the midcentury mythology of gender roles that drove so many women to use prescription sedatives to cope with domestic servitude. We're still dealing with the implications of that awful paradigm today. 

Smartphones were also sold as liberation, and now nearly everyone I know is trying to deal with their attention being constantly split by infinite scroll and seemingly infinite notifications from a thousand apps that similarly promised efficiency and fulfillment but are mostly just digital clutter. It's affecting our mental health, and fueling high-speed micro-trend consumption and misinformation. We forget fast. People are so thrilled right now to fuck around with Skynet. This is not going to set us free. It's a new toy, and one that's already generating loads of ethical quandaries. 

In a leaky digital world already vulnerable to security threats and run by monkeys prone to distraction, our newest shiny thing is AI that can regurgitate our worst flaws while simultaneously remixing our greatest hits generated by actual human genius, while hurting the livelihoods of people already struggling to make a living. I'm not impressed. 

To quote illustrious chaotician Dr. Ian Malcolm: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” 

"Microsoft’s new ChatGPT AI starts sending ‘unhinged’ messages to people; System appears to be suffering a breakdown as it ponders why it has to exist at all"

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