I’ve just finished reading Yuval Noah Harari‘s book Homo Deus (his follow up to Sapiens), and I’m petrified for the future concerning humans and technology. I doubt it was Mr. Harari’s intention to freak people out with his ideas surrounding the implications of humans’ growing reliance on algorithms and technology, but freaked out I am. When the overall implication is the end of Homo Sapiens, how could you not be freaked out? Perhaps, if you’re one of the 62 richest people on the planet (who hold as much wealth as the bottom half of humanity, 3+ billion people), you may look forward to that technological future.
The basis of Harari’s premise is; since humanity has essentially solved the problems of war, plague and famine (yes, Harari acknowledges these still exist today, but not to the degree they did even half a millenium ago), humans will turn toward creating a future with more happiness and contentment for all, and attempt to solve the “inevitability” of death itself. And technology and algorithms will lead the way.
Remember the Six Million Dollar Man? As a kid (I know I’m dating myself) I loved that show! If you’re unfamiliar, the show was about an astronaut that gets into a plane crash; loses both legs, an arm, and an eye; replacing them with cybernetic parts. Now he can run 60 miles per hour, lift cars, and see great distances. At that time, in the late 70’s, it seemed like total science fiction, heavy on the fiction. Today, that is all science, zero fiction. People may not be lifting cars, or jumping over buildings, but losing an arm or a leg today, which is of course awful; doesn’t mean you are left with no options. Today, should you lose a limb, there are indeed options, options provided by the latest science and technology.
Harari envisions a future where people won’t wait for a debilitating accident to decide to “upgrade” their legs or eyes. If you could have eyes that could see a kilometre away, or legs that would embarrass Usain Bolt in a foot race; and the resources to afford it, wouldn’t you? Why not give yourself an edge over other people. Harari argues, this is when we begin to move from Homo Sapiens ruling the planet to the emergence of a new human species. And with the emergence of this new type of human, a slew of ethical problems comes along with them. Ethical problems we are not prepared to answer considering the light speed technology is advancing at. It’s not hard to imagine very wealthy people will have “dibs” on these future enhancement opportunities. In all likelihood, it would only be wealthy people that would be able to afford them. Which creates a whole new dilemma of inequality.
WOULD YOU TRUST AN AUTOMATED CAR TO DRIVE YOU??
Automated cars are here now. Although they are still in preliminary testing phases, we are getting closer and closer to the day Uber & Lyft drivers will be as pissed at a “Robo-driver”, as taxi drivers are at the Uber & Lyft drivers! After a woman was recently killed in Arizona by an automated car, it seems, more people are again wondering aloud if we should re-consider the ramifications of people-less cars on the roads.
It’s too late. The techno-genie is out of the bottle and there’s no shoving it back in. In the 1993 film, Jurassic Park, the character Dr. Malcolm makes a poignant observation regarding the park’s scientists’ ambitions (which feels fairly ominous given today’s techno-advancement races), they were so preoccupied with if they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.
Ethics, politics, religion, economics are all affected by the advancements in technology. These advancements are coming faster than we can ascertain or determine the long term effects on humanity in all of these facets. By the time we get around to considering the questions that arise, the technology and it’s fast “thinking” algorithms will tell us the answers. Thankfully Yuval Noah Harari has taken the time to consider some of these questions for us. And, self-driving cars are barely the tip of the iceberg of concerns. Scary stuff indeed!
(BTW, Harari’s Sapiens had an equally chilling effect on me, forcing me to re-examine the way I look at humanity; and it is also worth a read!)