Welcome to the Machine
John David Best
Lately, prominent science writers have prognosticated that humans will become entities that are part biological, and part machine due to implants, so that there will be entities that are part human and part robot running around, such as the character in the movie, “The Terminator. This is happening to only a limited extent in the form of medical prostheses, such as artificial hearts. What is and has been happening since the beginning of life, and whose speed is increasing exponentially, is the conversion or integration of the human species into a single machine. This metamorphosis is being driven by continuing advancements in the fields of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI), and the ongoing consolidation of human economic activity.
A common characteristic of evolution is the increasing tendency toward cooperation. We have heard much about the inter/intra species competition for survival, but the most successful species are those thar have learned to cooperate, such as dogs, cats, and farm animals. Even without humans in the picture, most species cooperate in some manner – Predators such as lions hunt in packs (prides), hive insects such as bees and ants have a complete and complex dependence on each other, and there are many other examples in nature. In an ant colony each ant has a specific purpose and duty, and there is a chain-of-command.
An ant colony could in fact be a model for a modern corporation, or for a sort of machine with each part having a specific function. Am ant will not survive for long when separated from its colony nor a bee from its hive. So too, humans cannot survive without other humans. In fact, humans are perhaps the nost integrated and interdependent species on earth due to technological developments including portable phones and fast transportation, and the growth of the internet and social media. Corporations have the same sort of mutual dependence as individuals; they make parts and provide services for each other. Corporations have heavily intertwined ownership and control, with the same stockholders and directors controlling multiple corporations. Often it may appear that corporations are competitors, but this is a cultivated illusion. Currently, in practically any store in the world, if you open the soft drink case, you may see a variety of drinks that appear to be made by different companies, but if you look closely at the label you are likely to find the Coca Cola or Pepsico name on every single one of them. Large corporations are taking over all human commerce. In the “advanced” countries, the days small one-owner businesses are all but gone, with the small businesses having been either acquired or bankrupted by corporate competition with all the advantages. The small hardware stores, drug stores clothing stores, erc., have been replaced by a much smaller number of large, corporate-owned chain stores. The large chains are consolidating among themselves, and increasing the scope of their activities to many areas. Each of these behemoth corporations replaces the economic activity of maybe hundreds of small businesses of an earlier era.
Businesses consolidate to acheive greater efficiency. To a business, “greater efficiency” could be translated as “using fewer employees”. When corporations merge, thousands of human workers lose their jobs because they are no longer needed. Corporations aren’t sentimental -to a corporation, humans have no value other than what they contribute to the corporation. The CEO of a large manufacturing firm was recently quoted as saying to effect that he preferred robots to human workers for his new factories because they don’t complain or need cigarette breaks. Profit is the only moral of the corporation: If more profit can be achieved with robots than human workers, the humans will be dismissed with no remorse.
It is easy to predict that within the lifetimes of humans born today, that robots and AI will have taken over 90% of human activities. With the technological revolution scarcely in its infancy, there are all manner of devices to do chores previously done by manual labor. Even a most sophisticated human activity, driving a car, is already being done by robot. A century from now, all computers on earth will be so tightly integrated that they could be regarded as a single entity that spans the globe. Already, practically every computer on earth is connected to every other via the internet and phone network. Connectd computers are increasingly working together in things like the cloud and blockchain. We might as well start calling this entity that we are creating, the “Machine”
A Century from now, there will be nothing left for people to do; they could be fed and cared for by the machine without doing anything in exchange, the same as we care for our pets, but how many would the machine support, and for how long? Work in programming computers to “feel” artificial emotions (AE) in a similar manner to humans is a dangerous activity – the machine may not “want” to support freeloading humans. Things do not look good on this score for humans – as it stands, life is difficult for people whom the rudidemtary extant version of the machine does not find useful (i.e. people who don’t have jobs). Credit reports which are created by computer are already being used to deny unwanted humans a livelihood and a place to live.
Right now, those who have whatever password or identity verification is required by a computer feel that they are in total control. The day might come when they find themselves locked out of the computer with no explanation of why, and no fix to regain control. If the code was written by a self-programming computer, it could be all but inconprehensible to humans. Computer programming is something that a computer can do. In the future it might render human programmers unnecessary. Self-programming computers with the ability to influence the world around them already exist and are rapidly becoming more powerful. One cannot even imagine how powerful they will be a century from now.
The good news is this prediction may not come to pass: This author would make a fortune in sports betting (or weather forecasting) if he could infallibly predict the future. The bad news is that if it doesnt come to pass, the reason why is probably that humanity destroyed the world in a nuclear war.
So there you have it; the earth and all the life on it is a giant self-assembling machine that is becoming vastly powerful. How powerful? It will have lightning access to all human knowledge, it will bear humans at any intellectual contest and be able to solve problems that human intelligence cannot, it will have a memory that never forgets anything, and it will have sensory apparati far exceeding the senses of a human, and it will be able to create new forms of life – oh wait! it can already do all those things!
Why is it that life on earth results in the creation of such an all-powerful machine, and why do human beings play a central role in its creation? Is it just a fluke, or is there an intelligence behind it? It could be just a fluke – in a universe that is spatially and temporally infinite, anything that is possible will happen (otherwise it would not be possible). A religious person may be inclined to think that the machine, with its god-like powers is actually an incarnation of God and the mission of humanity is to create it. The creation of the Machine appears to be following a carefully orchestrated plan – By chance? or By design? Myself, I believe that our universe is in a box belonging to a child in a reality macroscopic (both temporally and spatially) to our own.