I may have surprised my esteemed collaborator, Jordan Rich, when he opened this podcast with the question,” Where do you think mankind is headed?” I answered, “I think we are headed for the destruction of mankind.” That is a view I have held since the bomb was unleashed on Japan, a view that seems quite contrary to my optimistic and fun-loving persona, but there it is, now reinforced by the plethora of existential threats facing mankind. The latest of those, Artificial Intelligence, dubbed AI for short, may be the one that wipes us out because of its ability to control us, much as the infamous HAL almost succeeded in doing in Stanley Kubrick’s foretelling film, “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
Several of these threats have arisen only lately, others have been around for thousands of years. Here is a partial list: climate change, global warming, nuclear war, pandemics, social media, artificial Intelligence, asteroid impact, alien invasion. As a nonagenarian who has lived through most of the 20th Century, and a significant part of the 21st Century, I have the distinct impression that life was simpler and more secure in the 20th. Ironically, all the discoveries in the past 100 years or so, have considerably reduced our comfort level, and have made life more uncomfortable, if not chaotic. Several are embedded in those threats listed above.
Will AI outrun our ability to control it? That is an open question, but just the question is enough to frighten any thinking person. For example, experts tell us AI can be programmed to do good things, but on its own can convert those directions to do evil things. Sure, those who see profit in AI are all for it. It must be regulated, but will it? Even if it is, it still might destroy us. Those same profit seeking forces are at work in the social media field, as well. “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Man has existed on earth for only a tiny fraction of the time earth has existed. As said, there is good reason to believe that an existential threat, or a combination of them, will destroy mankind, leaving the planet once again to the animal kingdom for the millions of years it will continue to exist.
Here is a saving grace. Despite the loss of decency and morality we see now and in recent history, one can still live for the good according to sound values. I say on this program, “I don’t have to change my life.” To make the point, Jordan astutely brought up my friendship with seventeen-year-old Elliot Stolyarov, an amazingly mature senior at Brookline High School who helps me with my work, and with whom a warm friendship has developed. Can I learn from a teenager? Can he learn from me? Absolutely! Enough to fortify my hope that young people will soon replace many of the dim politicians of today, and use their newfound power and collaborative ideas to turn the atmosphere from noxious to clear.
Jordan referred to my remarks as Larry Intelligence (LI). Way over the top, but thanks Jordan. But I do believe that we have to face up to these threats with a minimum of self-interest and a maximum of self-respect to stay around for a while.
People always people.