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  • Writer's pictureChris Beatrice

Why This is Different

You know how when we used “global warming” instead of “climate change” it made some people think as long as it still snowed in winter we didn’t have a problem? One guy brought a snowball into the Senate to prove that climate change was a “hoax”... the cover of a national magazine depicted clueless Al Gore shivering next to a pair of polar bears… remember polar bears?

Well the term “artificial intelligence” is pretty self-explanatory, but perhaps “artificial mind” is more to the point. Because unlike the robots that replaced factory workers, so cars could be cheaper, this thing’s here to replace you desk jockeys. And don’t kid yourselves—your job is easier to do than a lot of so-called blue-collar or menial jobs. Plus an artificial mind doesn’t need food, shelter, medical care or even a keyboard—all it needs is an internet connection.

This isn’t fear of a future world taken over by marauding androids armed with lasers—this is the present world dominated by large corporations with a long history of trying to avoid paying people, or eliminate them from the workforce entirely.

The rise of AI is not progress as usual, any more than a hotter than ever decade is the climate fluctuating as usual. It only takes a teensy weensy bit of open-mindedness to see that the nature of change itself changes.

Sure, machines don’t have consciousness, they can only mimic what we do, they can’t perform the simple, physical tasks in the real world that my pet mouse, Sniffy can (bless his pointed little face). But if you find comfort in these limitations then you are the guy brandishing the snowball and laughing condescendingly while looking like an idiot to the rest of us. Because it turns out it’s easier to make a machine that can WRITE a book (or create a picture) than one that can READ, interpret and understand the way we do. This is unintuitive only if we conflate intelligence with consciousness (and we do so at our own peril).

And as for machines doing the jobs we don’t want to do, or allowing us to work less than we have to now, that could be great if the benefits of technology were distributed evenly. Let me remind everyone that they are not.

Today, if you’re one of the enlightened, non-fearful people who prides yourself on being open to new things and adaptable, your motto is “embrace technology.” And by technology you mean digital technology. And by digital technology you mean stuff you can do on your phone. But technology is also the internal combustion engine, coal fired power plants, and nuclear weapons. Anyone have concerns about THOSE things?

So rather than being mindless propaganda machines for the latest technology we might instead look at the long term costs, who pays, and who benefits. Don’t assume you’re the beneficiary just because something makes you feel smarter or more capable for a second. And don’t assume you’re gaining something simply because others are being looted.

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