AI and the Future of Humanity (a la Hariri and Brown)

"21 Lessons" slideA couple of recent books have taken up the theme of AI and the Future of Humanity. First is Yuval Noah Hariri, previously an obscure Israeli historian who has suddenly achieved worldwide fame with his series of bestselling popular books. The last two in the series, Homo Deus and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century have as a central theme, AI and how it will shape the future of humanity. A major recurring theme in both books is the convergence of two transformative technologies: AI and Biotech. While this will undoubtedly have far reaching consequences in the future, Hariri’s take, for the moment,  is more in the realm of science fiction rather than science.

According to Hariri, modern biotech has revealed us humans as just machines – bio-chemical machines. So all our thoughts, feelings and emotions are nothing but the result of various bio-chemical processes. Thus, if only we were able to measure and analyze those bio-chemical processes, we could exactly predict our likes and dislikes. This is where the ICT and AI technologies come in! The result is something beyond the wildest fantasies of a company such as Spotify:

A machine learning algorithm could analyze the biometric data streaming from sensors on or inside your body, determine your personality type and your changing moods, and calculate the emotional impact that a particular song … is likely to have on you … if your boyfriend dumps you, the algorithm may walk you through the official five stages of grief, first playing Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry Be Happy”, then whipping up your anger with Analis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know”, encouraging you to bargain with Jacques Brel’s “Ne me quitte pas”, and Paul Young’s “Come Back and Stay”, dropping you into the pit of depression with Adele’s “Someone Like You” and finally aiding you to accept the situation with Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”.

Dan Brown’s latest novel Origin starts with his protagonist, the American Professor Robert Langdon visiting the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao Spain. He dons a sleek headset to serve as his guide and hears a voice:

“Good Evening and welcome to the Guggenheim in Bilbao. A most heartfelt welcome to you Professor Langdon. My name is Winston.

The voice is light with a jaunty British accent. As he is guided through the museum, Langdon is greatly impressed at his guide who seems to know not only about the museum’s exhibits but also about Langdon’s personal tastes. At some point, Langdon asks Winston why he wouldn’t guide him in person rather than via the headset. Winston answers that he’s not capable of physical movement. Langdon feels sorry, thinking Winston might be a handicapped person sitting in a wheelchair in some call center. Winston corrects him:

The truth of the matter, Professor, is that this evening you have been interacting with a synthetic docent, a computer of sorts.

Langdon first thinks it’s a prank but then is shocked by the magnitude of the fact: he is interacting with a computer endowed with artificial intelligence, something that has passed the Turing Test by a huge margin! In fact, in the rest of the book, Winston is always by Langdon’s side helping him crucially to navigate through a diabolical conspiracy and hired assassins.

At least Dan Brown, unlike Hariri,  explicitly labels his output as fiction  …

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