Forget Self-Aware Machines—We Need Self-Aware Humans

There's been a lot of talk lately about the rise of self-aware machines, yet we are already in danger of AI even though it is not yet self-aware and still unable to act independently of its program. The reason for this is not because AI is currently capable of dominating us with its superhuman power, it’s because we humans are not self-aware, and therefore are easily dominated by other humans who are clever enough to use AI to manipulate entire communities into doing their bidding. In addition, because the majority of humanity can’t see beyond their own fears, angers and opinions, our technology is advancing faster than our social reflexes, and we are changing the surface of the planet in irreversible ways.

Philosophers have been trying to wake us up for centuries. Take Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, written in 520 C.E. At the time, the concept was quite advanced for most people, but today in America, where public education has been around for about one hundred years, we still aren’t able to grasp the Allegory of the Cave as a group, and it appears we are becoming very dangerous due to our technology.

A friend of mine shared two very important articles with me this weekend that emphasize the importance of inner development at this time; A Planet with Brains by David Grinspoon, and The Rise of theWeaponized AI Propaganda Machine by Berit Anderson and Brett Horvath.

In A Planet with Brains, Grinspoon suggests that, “we have entered a new epoch of geologic time, the "Anthropocene," characterized by humanity as a new geologic force.” This is no small thing to consider—what is at stake is the idea that humanity as a collective group is now considered a geological force, right up there with wind, water, erosion, tectonic plates, magma and the Ice Age.

How many of us have ever considered that as human beings, we might just be considered a force of nature? One so great that we could change the surface of the Earth forever? A force similar to the atmospheric rivers now plaguing Northern California, for example. I am currently living in this storm system, and each day I wake up to new changes in the terrain around me. Roads washed away, mountain sides plummeting, avalanches, bridges collapsing, all of this due to the power of wind and rain. And not just a little water—as much as several Mississippi Rivers have been dumped upon us. This force is so great it has completely annihilated much of our infrastructure, major highways are closed and in all honestly, we’re held hostage by this force of nature. Stormfather, as I’ve taken to calling it since the constant gray clouds and heavy rain seem like my neighbor now, is a geological force and I’m helpless to its whims.

And it seems that thanks to technology, humanity is also a geological force, and as humanity carves, mines, paves, harvests, chops down, and poisons the world around it, it may just be time to admit we have as much power as Stormfather, and like a powerful hurricane, we’re not very discerning with how we go about business.

Here’s the thing—storms are raw, powerful, elemental energy. A hurricane or cyclone has a life of its own, but the system is unable to reflect upon its actions. It JUST DOES. Humanity on the other hand is not only raw, powerful, elemental energy. We also have our minds, and our ability to reflect, to be aware, to ask questions and assess the situation. Neil Young may have likened his lover to a hurricane, but that is not a complement. Toddlers are a force of nature, one that can bring down a house if left unattended. Adults however, should know better, shouldn’t they?

As a species, we must begin to consider that our power is as strong as a storm, as influential as glacier and as devastating as a tornado. Collectively we are a force of nature, but nature has endowed us with a failsafe—our consciousness. Isn’t it time we step into our roles as co-creators and use our power for good, rather than bumble around demanding profits, instant gratification and adoration, throwing tantrums if things don’t go our way?

Here’s the irony of this moment in time—thanks to our technology we MUST see ourselves as a geological force acting upon the planet, or else we’ll destroy it, but that same technology has been pulling us further apart from one another and the Earth’s cycles, destroying the village and instead replacing it with first little cutout houses in the suburbs and now making each of us an individual hiding behind a screen, glued to our devices while we argue and divide and set the world on fire.

The great Masters have been teaching us for centuries that we must awaken, we must use our higher faculties, and teach one another to do so. Were they preparing us for this moment?

It appears they were, and in their article The Rise of the Weaponized AI Propaganda Machine, authors Anderson and Horvath have made it very clear that we have a long way to go before we’re self-aware enough as a global population to take on the responsibility of being a geological force. Essentially, while we wring our hands fearing the rise of AI, the more devious elements of the human race have been priming and using our social media technology to take our data, understand what it means about us as individuals, and then manipulate or deepest fears and wildest fantasies to get us to vote for whom, or what, they want. The major player behind this evolving field of AI is a company called, CambridgeAnalytica, and they’re responsible for the successful passing of Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, and the brief, yet flashy rise of Ted Cruz during the Republican primaries. It’s one thing to help a candidate win, it’s another to own a sophisticated AI that according to Professor Jonathan Albright is,

“…a propaganda machine. It’s targeting people individually to recruit them to an idea. It’s a level of social engineering that I’ve never seen before. They’re capturing people and then keeping them on an emotional leash and never letting them go.”

How can this be possible? How can humanity, an actual geological force of nature, be so vulnerable to such manipulation? And how can we inoculate ourselves against such a blatant takeover of our cultural commons?

The answer is simple—we need to become self-aware. The same work that will enable us to be a geological force that is constructive, rather than destructive, will also free us from this powerful, dangerous, social engineering. Humanity’s refusal to become self-aware, to see the bigger picture, to deeply engage with one another and the earth around us, is killing us both within and without.

Grinspoon suggests that to responsibly take up our mantle as a geological force, “…would require that we reach a stage where we have a deep understanding of nature and an ability to forestall natural disasters, as well as the deep self-understanding necessary to forestall self-imposed disasters. In other words, it will require both technical and spiritual progress.”

We have the technology to destroy or create. Now we need the spiritual willpower to become self-aware and chose our path. I can’t help but wonder, what if we can’t do it? Rather than invest all our efforts in making our machines self-aware, why not focus on ourselves? We cannot embrace our role as a geological force if we’re busy fighting made-up cultural wars injected into our minds by a massive propaganda machine.

It’s time to stop believing that “we’re just human” and understand that together we’re something much, much more.


David Grinspoon said...

Nicole - Thanks for the shout-out and for the very interesting and provocative discussion. The work you do sounds really fascinating and I will definitely check out your writings. All best - David Grinspoon

Nicole Sallak Anderson said...

Thanks David for your comment! Glad you found me out here in cyber space. Do share your ideas with me, I try to keep up with all of it.

Nicole Sallak Anderson said...

As for your idea of being a geological force, I'm humbled by it and truly inspired. It puts into words something I've been trying to demonstrate in my writing for some time. It's akin to being the "hands of the Earth" a species that evolved to be able to move mountains, literally. Yet we're so disconnected from our origins, we aren't able to see the power as it relates to all other planetary systems. Yet we could do this, if we were self-aware. What an amazing thing to think about.

You're lucky your work allows for such inspirations.