Is despotism our descendants’ destiny? Are they fated to live in a “Marxtrix”? And will rogue artificial intelligence put us out of our misery before any of this is too far along? These are good questions now with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s assertion that “the last free generation” is upon us and that “technologically advanced civilization” is “unstable” and may not “go on for long.”
Assange (shown), now in his seventh year living at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, made the remarks in an interview — the last one before the Ecuadorian government terminated his Internet and telephone — during the World Ethical Data Forum in Barcelona, Spain. As habaricloudtoday reports:
The Wikileaks founder said that within a year of being born, children are now known to ‘all major world powers’ thanks to their parents posting on social media.
‘This generation being born now ... is the last free generation,’ he told Russian state-funded network Ruptly. ‘You are born and either immediately or within say a year you are known globally.
‘Your identity in one form or another — coming as a result of your idiotic parents plastering your name and photos all over Facebook or as a result of insurance applications or passport applications — is known to all major world powers.’
RT.com provides some more detail, writing, “‘A small child now in some sense has to negotiate its relationship with all the major world powers.... It puts us in a very different position. Very few technically capable people are able to live apart, to choose to live apart, to choose to go their own way,’ he [Assange] added. ‘It smells a bit like totalitarianism — in some way.’”
“The capacity to collect and process information about people has been growing exponentially and will continue to grow fast," he stated. "With advancements in applying Artificial Intelligence (AI) to big data, the next logical step is coming,” the site continued (full-interview video below. Note: Assange is a very interesting man).
Even more worryingly, Assange also predicted that a global cyber war would erupt, in the near future, as soon as AI is trained to adequately automate hacking attacks. “There is no border [online],” he said. “It’s 220 milliseconds from New York to Nairobi. Why would there ever be peace in such a scenario?”
Elaborating, he stated that while online entities “are creating their own borders using cryptography,” he doesn’t “think it’s really possible to come up with borders that are predictable enough and stable enough to eliminate conflict. Therefore, there will be more conflict.”
Yet most ominous is what has received little attention: Assange apparently believes man’s end times could be near. There’s “something very unstable about technologically advanced civilization that means it doesn’t go on for long,” he said in the interview. He believes this destabilizing factor concerns the “very rapid competition — if you like, the light-speed competition — that occurs when you wire up the world to itself.”
In a nutshell, Assange said that the competition commercially and geo-politically in AI — between the United States and China and the states backing them, for example — would lead “to an uncontrollable desire for growth in AI capacity.” It would be the AI version of the nuclear-arms race — the difference being that ICBMs don’t think for themselves and autonomously decide to incinerate man for the good of machines.
So just imagine a Terminator-like scenario where a Skynet becomes “self-aware” and then resolves to exterminate the human infestation — except with one difference.
While warnings about totalitarian dystopias or usurpative machines have long been the stuff of fiction and futurists, the technology portrayed is generally quite primitive. For example, the book 1984 well depicted a hopeless future, but author Orwell didn’t foresee a possible time in which hundreds of nanorobots could be around you at any moment collecting information; or what’s already on the horizon, flying robots disguised as insects that could do the same. He couldn’t envision a day when a computer chip could be implanted in every newborn’s brain, controlling his behavior, rendering him a puppet of the state and hence obviating punishment.
The point, however, is not just that the future could be worse than predicted. It’s this: What don’t we foresee today? Futurists and doomsayers generally have a poor prognostication track record; after all, we can’t accurately know the future because it hasn’t happened yet (from our human perspective).
Thus, predictions about how there’d be mass world starvation by the late 20th-century (or earlier) came to nothing precisely because actual advances in technology weren’t foreseen. And is this surprising? As late author Michael Crichton pointed out brilliantly in a 2003 Caltech lecture, people in 1900 had no good concept of what the real problems would be a century hence.
Now here’s the real question: Do we?
The point is not that we shouldn’t ponder and prepare for the future, but that we should proceed with humility. Tomorrow could be worse than we think — or better.
Yet more tragic than assumptions about future technology we can’t wholly know is the ignoring of age-old truths we can. For they inform that the “something” Assange spoke of that destabilizes civilization has a name: sin.
Tools are just that, tools — they are used, or misused, by people. A gun in a good man’s hands will just facilitate goodness; when wielded by a barbarian it can become a murder weapon. This principle doesn’t change just because the technology becomes more formidable; it just means the misuse has greater consequences.
As for liberty, British philosopher Edmund Burke put it well, saying, “It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.” Ben Franklin concurred, observing, “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”
Now, are we moving closer to or further from being people “of temperate minds”? If we don’t master ourselves and tame the best within, we’ll invite masters from without. Yet because too many want the latitude to sin, this necessary self-mastery is out of style.
This is why moral relativism permeates society today: “Hey, it can’t be wrong — and I can’t be wrong — if everything is perspective!” Our primary mistake is making the main focus whether our fetters are forged low or hi-tech, instead of why they’re forged in the first place.
Delving yet deeper, this growing immorality is a function of godlessness. No, that’s not opinion but a matter that can actually be called “philosophical fact.” Why? Because if God doesn’t exist, morality (properly understood) cannot; all that’s left are man’s opinions, perspectives, preferences, tastes. And then who is to say? It then all boils down to occultist Aleister Crowley’s maxim, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.”
Moreover, if there’s no God and the material world is all that exists, we cannot have souls (which are spirits). We’re then nothing but some pounds of chemicals and water, organic robots. And what could be immoral about altering a robot’s software (social engineering) or wiring (genetic engineering)?
For that matter, what could be wrong with terminating a robot’s function — or that of a large population of robots? What’s the problem with their being replaced, in survival-of-the-fittest fashion, by stronger, more intelligent, more durable AI robots? “Do what thou wilt,” remember?
Having said this, it’s possible that only angels could responsibly wield the demigod-like power tomorrow’s technology may bring. But for sure is that technological rise and moral regression are a deadly combination — one that can put a brave new world in barbarian hands.
Photo of Julian Assange: Screen-grab of YouTube video of interview