AI: Dispatches from a metal mind

For better and for worse, we only ever reflect
and remake ourselves through technology.

Relatively recent and unexpected career changes have found me up to my armpits in the swiftly-flowing waters and complex technologies of machine learning and artificial intelligence. I am utterly fascinated by the many and diverse ways in which we seek to replicate our own cognition and even while we must at some level know that in all likelihood this endeavour appears bound (under current trajectories) to ultimately and inevitably result in our own redundancy and replacement.

Of course, there is no real reason that these technologies could not be used to raise us (all) up and to make work simpler, shorter and quite plausibly more fulfilling – but – the catch here is that we have been inhabiting competitive and adversarial social and economic systems for so long now that we have come to believe that this winner-takes-all mentality, regardless of ideological locale, is completely and unquestionably natural.

Further to this, the competitive and belligerent spirit with which we all learn to quite natively and effortlessly, endlessly bludgeon each other with the differences by and through which we self-reflexively sustain the narrative selves we so desperately cling to – it is precisely the unwitting and direct behavioural template and existential or cognitive framework that we are shaping these new artificially intelligent life forms into.

The ruthlessly commercial and geostrategic, cybersecurity and ideologically-amplified world of technological acceleration and sociotechnical insecurity lives alongside that far gentler, wiser world for which an aptitude for compassion and humanitarian insight represents an alternate center of gravity. They are actually complementary dimensions of the same world but the darker, more angular one tends to dominate – for reasons of acquired character and behavioural predation more than of any profound or logical necessity.

We generate technologies which then proceed to recursively create and self-validate their own centrality to our world but, for better and for worse, it is a fundamentally competitive, partisan and mercenary spirit that trumps peace and wisdom in (almost) all matters of artificial intelligence. Perhaps adversarialism is the natural heir of billions of years of competitive evolution but – mark my words – we will never, ever generate authentic and unarguably sentient machine intelligence if we do not seek that other Unity that begins with compassion, selfless love and peace. It is not impossible, but it takes a lot more courage than to just swim along with the current of conventional and orthodox competitive and insecurity-generating egocentric thought. Call this my grand intuition and instinct on this matter, if you like.

There are lights, there are insights and there are profound and lasting benefits to these technologies of machine intelligence but, as it is always and only ever the nature and personality or essential character of peace and compassion to yield without conflict or battle, we find ourselves here chained to an enigmatic wheel that rapidly leads us all nowhere, or at least not anywhere that we would all, in the end, prefer to be. Technology is amazing and inevitably reflects our own minds, but which side of ourselves are we actively choosing to recreate and strengthen here?

I am currently a little cynical about it all, but ultimately hopeful that we can do better. Wise machines are quite possible and, indeed, at times almost seem more plausible than wise human beings.

Some thoughts a few days after writing the above content – I may have been a little pessimistic, previously. A technology is only as good or bad as the ways in which it is used and even biased data and machine learning systems can be accommodated in mature ways.

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