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Future minds – part 3: the outcome

9 July 2015

Now, where did we leave off last time? Ah yes, that’s right: real-world applications of artificial intelligences.

Imagine a world in where artificials have existed for a few decades. They are now in charge of complex and cumbersome tasks like managing large corporations, governing nation states and handling international politics. They’ve gained basic non-human-person rights.

Peace.

Peace.

The environmental issues are now under control, or at least kept from getting any worse. Oil and coal is no longer used for fuel and every single person, gadget, vehicle and appliance is online and connected. There’s peace in the Middle East.

A brave new world

Sounds like a dream scenario? A utopia? Perhaps, but there’s a backside to all this. As the world stabilises, the unemployment levels have skyrocketed. The industry has finally vanished, or rather transformed into a mix of automated factories and local 3D print shops, leaving hundreds of million people without a job.

Atom - a commercial 3D-printed guitar.

Atom – a commercial 3D-printed guitar.

Agriculture is lingering on, but as with factories, more and more gets automated. Even the service sector is showing signs of collapsing, with almost every type of work role now getting filled by synthetic people. Synthetics now work as personal assistants, receptionists, cooks, designers, engineers, programmers and accountants. More physical tasks have been taken over by cheap robotic appliances: mechanics, cleaners, gardeners and drivers are now all mechanical, controlled by synthetic management staff.

This essentially means there are no more jobs. Not for organic humans anyway. The synthetics take care of things, including their own development through research and engineering.

Game over?

So, GG humanity? So long, and thanks for the fish? Maybe not. A few people have started their own movement of augmentation, by offloading parts of their minds on to the cloud.

It all began innocently enough: smart phones kept track of people’s phone numbers and contacts, keeping them up-to-date with scheduled meetings and birthdays. Finding information became so easy that remembering things was not worth it. Our way to offloading our minds on external technical platforms had begun.

No, probably not Cortana. Or her sequel. But perhaps the next one after that?

No, probably not Cortana. Or her sequel. But perhaps the next one after that?

And then it continued. Not linearly, of course, but in irregular sprints of technological advancement. Suddenly we could let our wearables take care of making appointments too. And then book all our flights and hotels for us. We no longer had to worry about managing our increasingly complex lives in detail. It was like having a personal assistant always present, always with us.

It was the rich world’s privilege for a while, but with technology becoming cheaper and more accessible, everyone was soon catching on. Humanity not only got connected but amended, augmented. By the time artificials begins to take over the majority of positions in the workplace, some humans have taken the augmentation to such levels that they have whole teams of virtual selves working in parallel in the cloud. Spawning new instances of yourself to explore a topic or possible outcome of an action we consider taking becomes commonplace. We’re increasingly turning ourselves into AI/human hybrid minds. We’ve not quite become virtual beings (a concept I explored in my post Simulacrum), but we’re getting close.

And with our daily chores out-of-the-way – and no real jobs to attend – we began to explore our own inner world of creativity.

No jobs means no money which means..?

But hang on a minute: no jobs? So how about money? How would we afford to buy food, pay our living costs and lease a car? Well, it’s the darndest thing: without the need for people to drive the economy by selling their time, the economy has become independent. Which in turn has made it all but obsolete. What’s the point of money if no one’s making any? It has been reduced to pure energy management, and with the new cleaner ways of producing energy, energy has never been so abundant or available before. Organic people are allowed an energy quota they can spend on making their lives as comfortable as possible.

I don't know. Looks a bit too cramped to me to be truly comfortable...

I don’t know. Looks a bit too cramped to me to be truly comfortable…

Some people (being people, or at least human people) don’t care for the regulated freebies. They want more and the only way to get that is to work – and thereby compete with artificials.

By utilising their augmentations, the more ambitious humans are able to hold down some of the less demanding posts, and subsequently have their energy allowance increased. This would let them get a more luxurious life – to the envy of other humans – but it’s still at the mercy of artificials. Any truly challenging or critical job will always be handed to an artificial person. It’s like a utopian apartheid system, with humans on the receiving end of discrimination: no one’s really suffering, but every one’s sensing a level of oppression. Grade-A citizens will always be artificials.

Singularity

In the end, there’s no real competition. Even with augmented minds, humans continue to lag behind the blistering rate of development shown in artificials. It’s like watching an explosion of technological advancement: even the rate of acceleration itself is exponential. We’re left in the dust, wondering what just happened.

But the post-singularity life is not all bad. Ok, so we might not be the highest intelligence on the planet anymore, or even in charge of our own destiny, but we’ve never had it this good. And one of the side-effects of this higher living standard is that the human population has stabilised on a manageable level of 10 billion people. And the population is even decreasing, for the first time in millennia.

Utopia or zoo? Not that it matters really.

Utopia or zoo? Not that it matters really.

But what about the future? What will now happen to us? Are we to be kept on as pets? Will our synthetic overlords tire of us some day in the future and cut our maintenance? Or… get rid of us completely?

Probably not. We pose no more a threat to their continued existence than a population of orangutans would to us humans. And we probably hold an intellectual interest to the artificials, from a scientific point of view. We did after all conjure up their ancestors, back in the day.

But that was long ago. We now leave such things to more clever beings. Instead we focus on the things that make us happy: raising a family, expressing ourselves in art or researching the ancient history of the once dominant species on Earth: human beings.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. 10 July 2015 02:44

    I know this is probably the future (and that we won’t be alive to see it) and I know you like the idea of this, but this makes me sad. I don’t want to be obsolete to technology, even if that technology could run the world better than we currently are. (And it could. I know it could.) I guess I’m just glad I won’t be around to see this, because I don’t want to live a pointless life with no goals other than to relax and let the computers make all of my decisions for me. It seems like I’d be giving up a little too much of the me I like so much. But by the time this happens, I suppose no one will know any different…and that’s also very sad to me.

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    • 10 July 2015 06:17

      It is the future, that’s true, but not very long from now. The most widely accepted predictions puts the singularity some 20-30 years from now. Granted, the long-term effects speculated on here will be further away, but chances are that we’re still alive and well by then.

      Regarding the pointless life: it will only be as pointless as you let it. We’d still have the same choices as today – unless you happen to be a world leader or famous scientist. Not being in charge of the whole world doesn’t make our lives to be without meaning, surely? I’m certainly not in charge of it today and don’t feel particularly bummed out about it.

      And not having jobs (most of which often feel pointless anyway) would allow us to focus on doing things that actually interest us instead.

      That being said, no doubt a lot of people would just veg out and don’t do anything with their lives. But that’s as true today as it would in this future, is it not?

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      • 10 July 2015 06:54

        Maybe it’s silly, but I just feel like we’d all become the humans in Wall-E, unable to walk, glued to a screen, all our decisions made for us, unable to function without someone taking care of us. It’s probably just paranoia. Maybe when this happens I’ll go off the grid and go live in a cave.

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        • 10 July 2015 14:51

          Isn’t that more or less were we are already? Not to be anti-progress or nostalgic or anything, but modern life gives us a lot of choices and we choose to ignore most of them and just passively consume instead.

          But I can relate to the sense of sorrow in contemplating our own species intellectual termination. It feels tragic and depressing. On the other hand: it could be that it would allow us to become far more creative than we already are, if not in technical achievements or science perhaps in humanities? I doubt we will be able to switch off our inventiveness even if we’re no longer the dominant species on the planet.

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  2. 15 July 2015 00:18

    There’s an awesome drama on Channel 4 at the moment called “Humans”. I’m only up to episode 2, so no spoilers please, but it is about “synthetics” living amongst us, serving us in all sorts of capacities, as home helps, care assistants, menial worker, etc. The programme explores our relationships with these “creatures/beings”, with characters exhibiting jealousy of synthetics being a better mother, or being a rival lover; affinity, not wanting to upgrade to a newer model. Some of the synthetics have (assuming I have got the gist of the plot right, considering I’ve only seen two episodes) have seemingly reached singularity, and are living for the sake of living, partaking in having a craic just like humans, such as swimming and picnicing with friends. Except, this singularity represents a risk to humanity. And that’s where I’m up to. It’s well worth looking up if you can fine a download link or a boxset.

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    • 15 July 2015 06:22

      I’ve heard of that one! Supposed to very good, although I haven’t watched it yet (so I could spoil it even if I wanted to (which I don’t)).

      It seems vaguely similar to the film Ex Machina (which I have watched), with the birth of self-awareness in a robotic/synthetic body.

      As fascinating as those plots are, I somehow doubt that our first encounter with artificials will be with a physical being. Robotics is lagging behind too much, especially if we’re about to see the first artificial within the next 15 years or so. More likely they’ll be a supercomputer somewhere, communicating through a screen output. You know: old-school.

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