The Enlightenment Dilemma

Our world has a lot of threats, it has a lot of crime. Luckily it is a big world so most crimes may not have knocked on your door yet. Any crime that gets so big it starts to affect a significant portion of the population either gets assimilated into one of the institutions or fought with all the benefits to law enforcement and the security industry.

Credit card fraud has been a billion dollar problem for decades, but it was acceptable. It doesn’t stop with new cards, the simplest way to explain it is that security only comes from being removed from whatever tries to break in. Even the most advanced encryption systems work with Certificate Authorities that keep track of which encryption keys are used by whome, and if they are not somewhere else then the system they are supposed to authorise, they are no good. Distance is the only real security system we have. Even if it is abstracted to distance in time in the case of encryption, that encryption is worthless if we can not keep the adversary removed from what we try to keep secret.

Some threats are not real yet, they are imagined, like catastrophic climate change. Try to imagine how hard it is to convey this risk to a dog. It is impossible. Even humans are not easy to convince, not easy to evoke a visceral feeling of uneasy in. For that there needs to be a sense of absoluteness, and alignment between truth and physical safety in the mind. This is usually the core of the mind of a scientist. If that is unattainable then a trust in scientist that are honestly trying to make a significant career out of analysing and discovering truth. A belief in cooperation helps to trust the experts when they say we should act. If that trust is eroded and catastrophic relativism has taken hold in the mind then the only thing that will convince that individual is reality. At that point predictions are useless.

Some threats however are not safe to explain. We have seen some examples, like the dutch paper on how to create a H1N1 avian flue virus in the lab. In the process of showing that soceity is at risk of roque gene slicing terrorists these people are shown how to do their thing. A more recent example is the skimming of near field payment cards. Ok, so you need a portable merchant account and you can spend al day skimming people that pass by you in the street. Not everyone will be aware of this threat but the news does help those that want to present it.

VR, AI and the IoT are all threats. The threat of VR is that we become so distracted and maleducated that we let our world go to shit, we won’t notice it or care. We can hunt lions in VR all day so what does it mean they are going extinct? Africa? Been there, me and my ten AI avatars that know me better than I do.

With IoT you can talk about privacy, but really, tiny computers that talk to each other in everything, while hospitals declare emergencies because someone hacked into the system and holds data for ransom? How vulnerable do you want your world to be if a burglar can simply scan the thermostats in a neighborhood and see who’s at home? Malware for sale, identity theft services with a smile. Iphone chips drilled open to reveal part of the decryption details. Dangerous crimes become off the shelf combinations using incredible technologies at our finger tips.

AI is perhaps the killer. Now everyone is suddenly after it. AI we define as ARGO, or Aware robust goal oriented systems. Aware is some way off, but really not as far as most people think. I can make my computer be aware of itself as I let it babble words. When it recognizes what it said it can conclude it no longer needs to say it, then it can wait for me to repeat and it knows 100% for sure communication has worked. Maybe not what most think is self awareness, because there’s no rest of a self that the computer can be aware of, but the principle holds : The self is part of the goal oriented system’s assesment of whether the goal has been reached.

The risks of AI are similar to those of VR, the main being that we lose ourselves. Our brain is not capable of knowing what body it inhabits, especially when it sits still or lies on the couch watching a movie, that’s why these movies work so well. Our brian is confused and thinks we’re there, thinks we are one or the other actors. It has to do that, it’s wired to do that. Luckily AI is still not achieved and one of the reasons is that people are looking in the wrong direction. This is good. Now here comes the enlightenment dilemma : Let’s not explain what people do wrong with AI, or in thinking about AI. Even if we can’t really explain the threat AI presents.

The most tragic story of the Enlightenment Dilemma is that of the atomic bomb. Scientist across the world where exploring nuclear physics, but the president of the US was hardly aware of this. It was Leó Szilárd that convinced Einstein to write a letter about the potential threat of atomic bombs that made Roosefelt pay attention. Without it the US would not have had the bomb ready in time for use against Japan.

Humans evolved over millions of years and then they invented the economy, that ran of fossil fuels, and this economy turned the humans into destructive end points they called ‘consumers’, and these consumers in time got wrapped up in VR and cuddled and pampered by AI, and they did not notice their planet was going to shits. Or. We start only trying to know and understand that which will get us closer to a safe and healthy world to live in. Maybe some technology should be restricted, just like alcohol and drugs, just to keep our humanity prominent and strong.



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