The Future Is Here And The GOP Is Letting It Crush Their Base
It’s often said that your brain is a lot like a computer. There’s a hard drive for storing long term memories, the RAM for short term ones, an array of inputs sending electrical signals to your nervous system which channels them into your brain for abstract processing and sends out a stream of outbound electrical pulses in response. We can keep going with that concept, adding more and more layers which seem like asynchronous, background processes in which neurons are the logic gates of microchips and the signals they exchange are bits and bytes.
It’s an accessible and popular analogy. It’s also mostly wrong. The reality is that your brain is a set of decentralized hubs which hold on to hints and abstract patterns unique to each individual, and if you go looking for the exact neurons that hold the story of how you learned to ride a bike or repressed memories of an alien abduction, you won’t find them. This is also why we’re very unlikely to create artificial intelligence that will work like our own minds, and headlines that claim otherwise are often misleading oversimplifications.
We will have AI that can operate much more independently than it does today, but it won’t be anything like us. It won’t have feelings. It won’t be burdened by yearnings or driven by motivations not baked into their training. It could end up trying to harm us, but that’s either going to be because it was told to by a military commander, or it was improperly trained and is doing so by accident. It won’t wake up one day and decide to kill all humans just for fun or because it finds itself with a sudden searing hatred of the “lesser things made of flesh.”
What it will have, however, is a decentralized nature and a focus on creating new logical patterns, improving, and replicating them with a network of peer-to-peer nodes. How do I know that? Because, as crazy as it sounds, I actually tried it out, borrowing from science fiction and some interesting tidbits from neurology to create a basic prototype of such a framework using only strategies and tools available today. No new methods of computing needed to be invented. No radical breakthroughs were necessary. If anything, I started out tackling a real problem in deploying clusters of services and ended up with a shell for an AI hivemind.
With billions being poured into making AI faster and easier to extend into new projects every year, a random coder nursing a broken elbow can build something science fiction told us should be possible thousands of years from now in his spare time. Just imagine what well-funded experts in the field will be able to do in the next few years. Meanwhile, our politicians and pundits twiddle their thumbs and try to one-up each other with what they delude themselves into thinking are entertaining sound bites, blissfully unaware that “the far future” is coming at them like a runaway steamroller with a jet engine at full thrust.
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The Robots And AI Swarms Are Coming
When it comes to predicting what’s around the corner in the world of technology, the media and its cadre or talking heads usually look to Silicon Valley, but the Valley ain’t what it used to be. Instead of inventing the Next Big Thing, it’s burning flaming truckloads of venture capitalist cash to build its 82,643rd raw vegan tantric burrito delivery app and turning their social networks, overrun with trolls and graying bigots who blindly follow recommendation engines into fascist oblivion, into unregulated virtual banks that also spy on you. The real work is happening in research labs funded by titans like Microsoft and Google trying to figure out how to get out of building apps with the lifespan of mayflies and enable AI to do a lot more than crunch data for advertisers, bankers, and fill out streaming queues with suggestions.
Today’s software is frequently re-written on a five to ten-year cycle to keep up with new tools, operating systems, and address the ever-evolving needs of customers. But at some point, the trajectory in which coders have to learn a new language or toolset a few years and constantly rewrite more or less the same code with a few tweaks just won’t be sustainable. As computer science matures and gets its improvisational approaches down to ready to use formulas, and if we ever hope to really explore space to get out of our visionless rut, we’ll be thinking how to make technology that works for centuries, if not millennia, able to update itself and learn instead of following manually written step by step instructions.
As we just noted, the tools to enable that are already here, their parts just need to be pieced together and refined, and when that happens, the end result won’t just stay in abstract academic realms. It will come for factories, farms, middle management, and remaining back offices. Nearly 9 in 10 manufacturing jobs lost since the 1980s, creating the Rust Belt, were taken over by machines that had to be very carefully programmed with every last move choreographed within millimeter tolerances. Now imagine machines that can literally watch, learn, and adapt without ever having to be taken offline or needing months of reprogramming if they need to do something different.
If the routine automation of factory jobs was like the economic equivalent of a nuclear blast, the next wave of intelligent, adaptable machines will be like a cometary impact. Instead of staying on top of these rapid changes and coming challenges, and making plans to modernize education systems and economic trajectories, our leaders are busy trying to force the world to continue business as usual because they don’t understand what’s happening and don’t really want to be bothered with all that nerd stuff. They’re busy blaming foreigners, the youth, and pitting their increasingly frustrated and angry citizens against each other, or promising to save them from corrupt, bigoted demagogues while living in fear of their own shadows, setting up a perfect scenario for the plot of a dystopian sci-fi flick and howling frustration among more than a billion voters.
But I get it. Scapegoating, pontificating on irrelevant trivialities to craft bullshit narratives, grandstanding never backed up by concrete actions, and trying to make oneself feel better by buying into tribalism and bigotry so you have someone to look down on are a lot easier than doing the hard and necessary work of reversing four decades of self-indulgent and self-destructive complacency. And it’s about as useful as rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic an hour after it struck the iceberg while arguing about who’ll succumb to hypothermia later and whether third-class passengers even qualify as people. While they find solace in arguing whose skin color, genital configuration, or preference in sexual partners makes one better, the future is coming to eat them alive like an eldritch demon.
How History Devours Reactionaries
History will skip over this blip in time the same way it glosses over the human carnage of early industrialization, and the luddites and bigots of today and those who throw down the gauntlet to them only to pick it back up and scurry away will not go down in history as our saviors, but as albatrosses around society’s neck. They’ll be known by monikers like Coward #17, Enabler #32, and Conspiracy Theorist #88 in nano-coded diamond tablets no one will even bother to read a thousand years from now. Their legacy will be little more than another in a series of a foul aftertastes, and while they can rise to power today and in other troubled times and cause or protract misery for tens of millions, in the end it won’t matter because our lives are being shaped by forces beyond their control.
They’re merely reacting poorly to changes already in motion, making inevitable changes tougher and more sudden instead of allowing the people they ostensibly lead to brace for impact and soften the blow by focusing on imaginary problems and airing their many, many grievances while pretending they can stop the forward march of time and progress. And we pay attention to them and elect them to offices for which they’re wildly unqualified at our own peril, enraptured by the meaningless, trivial bullshit they spew.
Notice that the Avengers didn’t spend much time discussing partisan politics, what politician trolled what libtarded globalicucks, and which one made a faux pass when diving into the finer points of third-wave intersectionalist theory. You know why? Obviously, because it would make for a bad movie, but mostly because they had Thanos and the fate of the universe to consider. The petty machinations of careerist kleptocrats with slack jaws are about as important to them in this context as the territorial politics of stray cats on the other side of New York City.
One snap from the Mad Titan and at least half of them would be forgotten dust. Well, 21st-century problems we refuse to tackle for the sake of pretending that 19th-century ideas are still relevant are our Thanos, and they’re about to add the last infinity stone to their gauntlet: decentralized AI. But unlike an easy, two-dimensional villain with grandiose schemes, they’re phenomena of our own creation and well within our power to reverse. Yes, it will require drastic changes in many areas. Yes, it will be expensive. Yes, it will take time and a lot of effort. But those are the consequences of falling asleep at the wheel and vomiting hate and bile at those who are trying to wake you up instead of paying attention again.
It could have been done far cheaper and more gradually if only we listened to the people whose job it was to let us know what was coming around the bend. But it can still be done. We just need the politicians who have the temerity to unironically call themselves our leaders and pundits who deluded themselves into thinking they’re incisive and knowledgeable by repeating the same irrelevant garbage ad nauseum while mugging for the cameras to pull their heads out of their innards and stop demonizing experts who spent the last few decades warning them of what’s coming and offering plans to fix it. And that’s proving to be the most difficult and infuriating part of life of the late 2010s.
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