Some scientists don’t seem to grasp how unlikely humanity is, they have been scouring the local universe for decades for any planet that just might conceivably support life and every time they think they’ve found one it is trumpeted in the media as being another potential Earth, one we can visit because it is only four light years away. It is only later that the scientists admit that the planet is much bigger than Earth with crushing gravity, that it’s much hotter, that a year lasts a week, and oh yes, it’s sun is dying, but it’s a lot like Earth, honest, well its roundish at least. And four light years? That’s four years travelling at the speed of light, or to put it another way just shy of 24 trillion miles, or in our fastest spaceship with the kids in the back, sixty thousand years of are we nearly there yet? Seriously if you are looking for a planet that supports life look around you. The Earth is the most extraordinary planet in existence, prove me wrong. And that being the case what does that make us? Humanity is special simply because we know we are, well some of us do.
As a species we are not in any way exceptional, says the highly intelligent, articulate scientist in his improbable and very clever book about how ordinary we are. Speak for yourself mate. The reason certain scientists and academics don’t think we are special is because it is they who make that determination, they are so terrified of the slightest hint of human purpose that they will do almost anything to convince us of the orthodoxy of the random. Humans, they say, are here purely by accident, we are extraneous, meaningless and besides we are entering our extinction phase, bound to be undone by our own more advanced inventions, superseded by AI or enslaved by a robot army of our own making. They argue that machines already know us better than we know ourselves based on things as tenuous as Amazon recording our shopping preferences. Which is like saying your neighbour knows you better than you know yourself because he has noticed that you wear pink socks on Thursdays or like claiming to be able identify the contents of a man’s stomach by his shadow. Machines know nothing important about us because information is stupid, you are not your address, or your date of birth, you aren’t even your credit card details. You are your consciousness, something no machine has the faintest clue about. AI are only as good as the last update, if we behave in a predictable manner programs can map us but the moment we change our behaviour they are flummoxed, sending us images of even uglier sandles based on a momentary dalliance with Birkenstocks, or recommending films based on the ten seconds of ‘Blue is the warmest colour’ we were able to sit through. I’m looking at you Netflix. Intelligence, especially the artificial kind is not consciousness, it is unable to differentiate between routine, habit and passing fancy, it is the machines that have no purpose.
With that in mind what will AI do without people? Perhaps they will spare those who most closely resemble them, those made in their image. The geek will inherit the Earth. Together they will condemn the accidental human, define its humanity as weakness, its emotions as corrupt data to be deleted, reserve existence for those that do. Sure sounds dull, no variables, no chaos, no whimsy, just ever increasing efficiency. It’s reminiscent of Mister Croup my bead eyed mathematics teacher who used to tell us ‘Dreamers are grapes who rot on the vine and doers are grapes who turn into wine.’ Mister Croup was fond of doers and had the red nose to prove it. He wasn’t fond of me, ‘Stop dreaming Baker!’ Well at least I was good at something, show me an AI that can dream.
Humans cannot be overwritten, we are analogue not digital, narrative not algorithm, though it could be argued that collectively we resemble a program, a societal one, people like the company of other people, together we do better. The fact that certain governments still think that there is such a thing as brainwashing but no such thing as society could indicate that they too have much in common with the AI’s they are building. Denying society only goes to show how little they understand it, though they are never beneath exploiting it.
Whilst technology is often marvelous it is not proof of a more elevated society, technology changes little but our perception of circumstance. Humans are basically the same as they’ve always been only with nicer hair, we may have supercomputers in our pockets but we use them mostly for gossip, pictures of cats and for telling callers we’re in Waitrose when we’re actually in Tesco. We may be modern but in their time so were our distant ancestors, flint tools were literally cutting edge, yet we think of them as culturally inferior, suffering short brutal disease addled lives, stumbling from one famine to another, before dying of boredom or being murdered in their beds for their teeth. Nothing could be further from the truth. Recognisable humans have been around for about two hundred thousand years but have been creating civilisations for only about six thousand, a mere tenth of the time needed to reach that distant, heavenly body double. For the vast majority of that time, prehistory, people lived in harmony in small, independent communities, chasing chickens, inventing ugg boots and laughing at penis shaped vegetables. How do I know this? I don’t, no one does, that’s why it is called prehistory, but we’re here aren’t we? If all of our early ancestors were violent it is highly unlikely that we would have survived long enough to start killing each other.
In the West violence is currently unacceptable yet has never been so popular. We like to think we are above it yet revel in it from the safety of our sofas, following blow by blow accounts of the oil wars, murdering with impunity in computer games, watching TV programs that gleefully show dismemberment, torture and cannibalism but which shrink in horror from so much as an exposed nipple. It is hardly surprising then that we retrofit violence to everything, imagining that much earlier cultures, though hopefully safe from side boobs, were inevitably riven with savagery and bloodshed. Perhaps our love of violence is why science based societies project violent tendencies onto religion based ones. They are our scapegoats, erroneously seen as being less developed, less peaceful despite the irony that the tactics and weapons their outliers use against us are often our own.
Societies, as opposed to individuals, only become violent when they are directed, when they travel further afield, when they are pitched against each other, when resources are coveted or limited, when they become feudal, become counties, states, whenever there is the installation of government. Which pretty much describes every country in the world. Practically every war ever fought has in one way or another been about land, every form of religious and ideological justification has been used to hide it but basically political power demands space, resources and people. War is really about stealing your neighbour’s stuff, which is one reason why terrorism is murder and not war. Killing each other in bulk is not a natural human trait it is a political one, the natural human trait is forbearance, even in the trenches enemy soldiers would shoot over each other heads, we like each other, we get on until someone or something gives us a reason not to. Division almost always has to be pointed out to us.
So it is interesting that in spite of what you may have read or been told the truth is we are currently living through some of the most stable and peaceful times in recorded human history. There is less war, less murder, less crime, less hunger, less disease, as a race we are healthier, wealthier and happier than ever before. Contrast that with tales of terror, of economic and environmental catastrophe, of plague and starvation, the stories of mass migration, the fear of the foreigner, the pressure sores of poverty. It is in the interests of the very powerful to keep us off balance, to have us feeling insecure, afraid, divided, ordinary. But increasingly we know we are not. We pay less attention to big media, laugh at or ignore those who consider themselves our masters, point the finger at the rogues who would take everything, turn away from the coalescence of hate. Society is not what you do, or the taxes you pay or the freedom you concede to authority, it is human commonality, the sense of being part of something bigger than ourselves. Regardless of what the hired trolls would have you believe the world is becoming more representative of the people who live in it despite the best efforts of those who like to think they own it.
Which is why I feel the referendum result is so revealing and having had time to think about it, benign. It was practically a fifty/fifty split which on the face of it may seem the very definition of division, but it isn’t, it is the very definition of democracy. It shows that two conflicting and ostensibly opposed political points of view were pretty much cancelled out. It was a non result, a draw, and should have been treated as such. Certainly in time we may well pull out of the EU, but so what? Perhaps our exit will spark long needed reform and at some point in the future we can re-enter knowing something positive came from our leaving. Whatever happens the real losers are the politicians, exposed as lying, irrelevant, childish provocateurs. Again it is the supposed ordinary people who seem extraordinary, there were no riots, no great civil disobedience, amazing considering certain media would have us believe we are now a nation of morons and vicious racists. What I see is passion and belief, possibly misguided and definitely misinformed but real. I haven’t spoken to a single Brexiteer who would change their vote or who questions their motives, though I still find it amusing that my spell checker wants to change Brexiteers to profiteers.
Leadership should not be about being in power, but it is. So it is pointless to expect such steeped authority to have any genuine compassion, to have a heart, it doesn’t. It is why it throws itself upon the popular while at the same time recoiling from the populus. We are not special to those who search space for proof of our lowly place in it and we are not special to those who would define us as such or build our replacements, and we certainly aren’t special to those who would control us or exhort us to murder. But to the wider, empty universe we are the rarest and most wonderful of things, all we need to do is realise it. The increasingly futile attempts of those in power to seem of the people, to appear authentic are nothing more than desperate stabs at being human, because humans are real, have purpose, are here for a reason, it’s just not our purpose to understand it. We are not about to be superseded or subdued, we are magnificent, no machine is ever going to overthrow our humanity, an artificial intelligence has been trying but failing to do that for thousands of years, it’s called government.