The release of nuclear power was greeted with a mixture of awe and triumph.
Splitting the atom was—at one time—the most difficult task that humanity had set itself upon completing.
Once the atom was split, however, and the power released from that act was applied to the making of war and the destruction of human lives, in order to—ostensibly—prevent the loss of other human lives, humanity recoiled in horror at that which we had accomplished.
Robert Oppenheimer’s words at the Trinity test ring down through to our time: “ Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”
And now, we have arrived at yet another linchpin moment in human history. Just as the act of splitting the atom and releasing it’s energy was supposed to bring humanity closer to a utopian peace, we are now at a moment where very smart people are promising us that we are ready to release the potential of AI and many other technologies.
They promise us a jobless future of endless prosperity, with at least our basic needs completely fulfilled.
They promise us a future of 3D printed food, self-driving cars, predictive machines that will learn what we need and provide it to us without question.
They promise us a future where there will be haves and have-nots, but that they line between the elite and the commoners will be the same as those who can defeat—or prolong—their own deaths through genetic manipulation, and those who know that the technology is out there to do this, and cannot get it.
But, in the midst of all of these promises—remarkably similar to the many promises made to humanity by well meaning smart people (like Robert Oppenheimer) before we released atomic power—they do not ask the truly existential questions the release of such technologies creates:
- Will a jobless future have space for fulfilling work to be accomplished by people who want to do it?
- Will 3D printed food provide for all of humanity’s basic dietary needs without damaging the environment, or the people who consume it?
- Is overcoming death really the highest possible calling for an individual human being?
- Can a man made machine ever experience emotions, question its own limitations or explore the possibility of a soul?
- Will machine learning bring utopian peace, or is the brute nature of the human animal more likely to emerge once the singularity arrives?
What’s most disturbing to us is that none of the really smart people in genetics, neurobiology, data analytics, computer and software technology or any of these other fields, seem to be interested in sitting down with a few philosophers, religious practitioners and policy makers to even discuss the questions in the first place.
To quote another famous man: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
Humanity’s progress is too important to be left alone in the hands of the very smart people.
-Peace Be With You All-
Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: email@example.com