I am wary that nerds are swallowing too many algorithms when I read interviews like the one recently published in Wired. (“The God Complex,” by Olivia Solon, Wired, March 2017, pgs. 18-19.) Yuval Harari has written a new book, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, in which he predicts robots with artificial intelligence (AI) will become so perfect humans, at best, will be redundant or at worst, obsolete.
According to Harari, what held a society together in the past were moral precepts, usually provided by religion. Today, he insists, data shapes our destiny. Data helps us decide “who (sic) to date, where to live, how to deal with economic problems.” (Ibid pg. 19.) As people plug into these systems, their lives are shaped by the corporations that control the data. Opting out isn’t a choice. Try getting health care, he points out, without entering the data base.
Harari’s vision of the near future may worry some people. But humans are resilient. So far, we have adapted to the changes our inventions have brought about. We will do the same in the Dataist Age. While algorithms and artificial intelligence may offer new standards of perfection, if history is proof, we humans will continue to model our societies upon ourselves not upon our creations. Recent studies prove my point After examining the nature of corruption, scientists concluded the more corrupt a country’s leaders become, the more corrupt the population. (“National Corruption Breeds Personal Dishonesty,” by Simon Makin, Scientific American Mind, March/April 2017, pg. 15.) Citizens model themselves by example.
But our story doesn’t end there. Scientists have also learned we humans have a psychological incentive to view ourselves as honest. Because of it, a floor on bad behavior also exists. No matter how corrupt a leader is, most of his or her followers will refuse to drop below a certain level. (Ibid pg. 15) That finding leads Jonathan Schultz of Yale University to conclude, “All around the world, people are quite honest.” (Ibid pg. 15.)
Intelligent robots may reach a standard of perfection in the future, but given our history, I doubt Homo sapiens will disappear because of it. Perfection, after all, has its flaw. It admits no change. And while intelligent robots may come to know us better than we know ourselves, they may be incapable of altering with the times. Wanting to do better is a human incentive, not an algorithm. That drive will keep us from becoming obsolete.