Like a lot of people I’ve been experimenting with ChatGPT. I can see why some people are worried about it. But, like a lot of historical worries about the future, maybe they’re more about love for the status quo and fear and of the unknown. So, I’m going to skip the potential bad stuff and just jump right to something that could be pretty good – I think artificial intelligence is going to make us more human. If we are willing, maybe as human as possible.
I’m aware of the pitfalls of techno-optimism. I think that on the way to the future of being as human as possible there’s going to be some really tough times. Like, world-historically tough. There’s going to be job losses for a lot of people who thought they were future-proof because the skills they had couldn’t be automated – like high status white collar folks who usually tell ‘poor’ people to learn to code (just a modern way to say ‘get some skills and a job, bum’ as if some skills aren’t skills at all). Guess what, coding isn’t enough anymore. The code will code itself. It already does – I’ve literally made the computer do it (like, that’s what prompted this post). Work is changing – not just for grocery store checkers and fast-food servers, but for accountants, and professors, and doctors, and lawyers, etc. The computers can do that stuff, and often do it better. Anything that’s relatively narrow intelligence (see Artificial Narrow Intelligence), computers can do – and capitalism and modernity have been all about specialization for a long time. We specialize ourselves right out of jobs all the time when some new tech comes along and makes us obsolete. If our societies aren’t ready for that disruption, stuff can get pretty wild.
A lot of us probably think we’re already pretty human. But, I don’t think most of us are as human as we could be. I think for centuries capitalism has made us commodities. Yes, I really think Marx was right about a lot of stuff, including his ideas about what humans are really like. We’re a unique animal. We are fundamentally creative. We are fundamentally interested in doing creative things in and with the world around us. We like to play and fingerpaint. But, capitalists have made that really hard because they own all the world and make us do stuff that grows their profit while leaving us without any of the stuff we made, and too damn tired to do much more than have hobbies in whatever time is left over after we do their work – if we are those lucky professionals about to be made obsolete, that is!
When the tech starts doing that work, we’re all going to have a lot of time on our hands. If we can organize a distribution of stuff like food and shelter so that we don’t all starve, or get burned-up and washed-away in the climate end-times, we’re going to be able to really do some amazing stuff with all the time we have to be human. We can pay attention to the world around us. We can create whatever we like with the stuff the world gives us – we can put ourselves into our creations and keep those creations! And just leave them around for other people to wonder about, if we like.
And that’s where I think things can get pretty great – with effort. Other people. If we make this transition to the future of being as human as possible in a thoughtful and just way (I know, I know), we’re going to need to spend time with others, less dominated by work. It’s true we might just communicate with one another via AI assisted texts and floating around as legless avatars inside Zuckeberg’s servers. But, I really don’t see that happening. Being online is unfulfilling. People, on average, like being with people in actual spaces. When we connect with people, we feel it and we like it. Yes, it’s hard work. Really connecting can actually be painful and terrifying – but that’s fully human. Right now we use tech – and work – to avoid a lot of that stuff. We’re not going to be able to do that if we don’t have jobs to go hang out with our co-commodities. When the computers can do all the work, all that may be left is being a human with other humans. Granted, maybe we – or ANI – will figure out Artificial General Intelligence, and then all of this changes again. But in the meantime, maybe this terrifying tech will give us a chance to be as human as possible.