I passed on a link to Harai's recent piece in The Economist
in Tuesday's post
, but I haven't been able to get some of his crystal clear thinking out of my mind, and so I'm putting a few clips of text in this post for MindBlog readers, and also because MindBlog serves as my personal archive of ideas I don't want to forget. The article is about AI hacking the operating system of human civilisation.
Language is the stuff almost all human culture is made of. Human rights, for example, aren’t inscribed in our DNA. Rather, they are cultural artefacts we created by telling stories and writing laws. Gods aren’t physical realities. Rather, they are cultural artefacts we created by inventing myths and writing scriptures...Money, too, is a cultural artefact. Banknotes are just colourful pieces of paper, and at present more than 90% of money is not even banknotes—it is just digital information in computers. What gives money value is the stories that bankers, finance ministers and cryptocurrency gurus tell us about it...What would happen once a non-human intelligence becomes better than the average human at telling stories, composing melodies, drawing images, and writing laws and scriptures?
What we are talking about is potentially the end of human history. Not the end of history, just the end of its human-dominated part. History is the interaction between biology and culture; between our biological needs and desires for things like food and sex, and our cultural creations like religions and laws. History is the process through which laws and religions shape food and sex.
What will happen to the course of history when AI takes over culture, and begins producing stories, melodies, laws and religions? Previous tools like the printing press and radio helped spread the cultural ideas of humans, but they never created new cultural ideas of their own. AI is fundamentally different. AI can create completely new ideas, completely new culture.
...since ancient times humans have feared being trapped in a world of illusions...In the 17th century René Descartes feared that perhaps a malicious demon was trapping him inside a world of illusions, creating everything he saw and heard. In ancient Greece Plato told the famous Allegory of the Cave, in which a group of people are chained inside a cave all their lives, facing a blank wall. A screen. On that screen they see projected various shadows. The prisoners mistake the illusions they see there for reality. In ancient India Buddhist and Hindu sages pointed out that all humans lived trapped inside Maya—the world of illusions. What we normally take to be reality is often just fictions in our own minds. People may wage entire wars, killing others and willing to be killed themselves, because of their belief in this or that illusion.
The AI revolution is bringing us face to face with Descartes’ demon, with Plato’s cave, with the Maya. If we are not careful, we might be trapped behind a curtain of illusions, which we could not tear away—or even realise is there.
We have just encountered an alien intelligence, here on Earth. We don’t know much about it, except that it might destroy our civilisation. We should put a halt to the irresponsible deployment of AI tools in the public sphere, and regulate AI before it regulates us. And the first regulation I would suggest is to make it mandatory for AI to disclose that it is an AI. If I am having a conversation with someone, and I cannot tell whether it is a human or an AI—that’s the end of democracy.
This text has been generated by a human.
Or has it?
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