The Future is Yours (or is it?)

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I wrote the below when being invited to contribute to a white paper looking at  future scenario narratives imagining AI in 10 – 20 years

After several ‘early readers’ commented that I should share it with my community, here it is!

 

The Future is Yours (or is it?)

Clara woke up with a start. Dam, someone had hacked into her implanted chip again. It as starting to get really annoying.

When she had first heard of the project ‘Experience the transhumance future’ she had loved the idea, and volunteered immediately. She had relished the prospect that she could get into which ever state of mind she needed via the remote control that operated the chip in her brain: Fully relaxed, fully focused, deep asleep …  it had been bliss, and managing work and play had become much more easy. But increasingly these chips had become the target of hackers who manipulate people’s state of mind. Her being woken up at an ungodly hour was the least of her worries. Buses were crashing because someone sent the driver to sleep, shops were robbed calmly and successfully where security or key personal had had the chimp implanted. Some were even wondering whether it was still humans who were conducting these hacks, or whether machines had taken over entirely.

She sighed, and got up and padded into the kitchen where the smell of coffee was welcoming her. At least the hackers were courteous enough not to mess the chip’s communication with her coffee machine, which started automatically, triggered when a change in her brain waves was indicating that she was about to wake up. 

On the screen on her fridge flickered the news that her virtual assistant deemed important for her. She some times wondered whether there might be some other news she might be missing, because when she talked to her friends their news channel seems to report different things.  She some times wondered whether there was actually anyone who still truly knew was actually going on!

But in her somewhat sleep deprived state she decided not to worry too much about it and looked at the fridge again, where she was now getting information on which food had been ordered, and what menu was suggested for the day. Her fridge was very clever like that, always making sure that no food went to waste. The recepie that were proposed were surprisingly tasty though often contained foods she had never heard of.

The voice of her virtual assistant disrupted her thoughts: “Clara, don’t forget, you have a meeting with Fred in Cincinnati and Klaus in Munich in 30 minutes. The contract is prepared and the slides you need are ready on your computer.” When had that meeting popped into her diary, and who were Fred and Klaus? Never mind, her assistant usually knew what was best, and had everything under control. 

She took her coffee cup and moved into the office enjoying, as every morning, the image of a beautiful beech showing on her windows, the temperature being just right, and the air-condition even simulating a gentle see breeze and dispersing a smell of sea air. Her computer had already started up, displaying her emails in order of importance. Sometimes she wondered who decided what was important and what not, occasionally feeling that there were some emails she never saw – but her progress in the organisation had been smooth, and so she did not want to rock the boat by asking questions that might be perceived as criticism of the algorithms that steered her life.

First in her inbox was an investment decision that, so her virtual assistant assured her, was just the opportunity she had been looking for. Initially she was a little reluctant as she could not find any information on the organisation, and in the past as she had lost a fair bit of money, but then decided, again, my virtual assistant knows best!  After all, these assistants were so clever, with all their data processing capability and access to information she could only dream of. 

Better take a look at the slides her assistant had prepared for her. She felt her stomach sink at the sight of them!  What were they all about?  She was quite sure she had never heard of this project, and it seemed that there were some big decisions to be made in this meeting. She was wondering whether to cancel and find out what it was all about first, when her screen flickered, and there were Fred and Klaus, ready to listen to what she had to say. Oh my goodness, she thought, what am I going to do? When all of a sudden a calm washed over her and she launched into her presentation. Strange, she thought, I did not know I knew all that! It was almost as if she were remotely controlled…

When Klaus dropped of she continued chatting with Fred a little longer, relieved it had all gone so well!. Klaus looked at her for a long time then asked, ‘“Did you know?” “Know what?”, she asked. “That Fred is not a real person.” She nearly fell off her chair. “What”, she exclaimed, “are you sure?  He looked so real, his facial expression, his tone of voice, his sympathetic reaction when the discussion got a little emotional …” She did not know what to say. Was Klaus real?  What she?  She started wondering …  and it occurred to her that she did a lot of wondering nowadays … When did it all start? Should she … but just as unexpected as she had woken up she fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.

 

My reflections on the above …

I have more questions than answers. As all technology (and innovation), AI per se is neither good nor bad. It depends what we do with it (how we program it …), and what boundaries are set. Though of course the best boundaries need to be adhered to, and particularly those who are malevolent don’t care too much about them… My four main concerns are,

Limitless fakeability

My fundamental concern about AI and all things digital is that everything that is digital can be hacked, and manipulated; nowadays it can be manipulated with such skill that it becomes almost impossible to find the truth (or the original state) once it has been altered. 

Power hungry

I know that’s why blockchain was created, to provide a traceable truth, but I am not sure that blockchain is a sustainable, long term solution as the energy consumption associated with it is rather alarming. According the University of Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index, the global bitcoin network currently (2020) consumes about 80 terawatt-hours of electricity annually, roughly equal to the annual output of 23 coal-fired power plants, or close to what is consumed by the nation of Finland.

Biased

I am aware that there is a lot of talk about biases, and I believe rightly so. If AI builds on the information it is fed, then, logically, it will build on and amplify the biases it is being fed.

Considered to speak ‘the truth

I am also somewhat alarmed that those listening to the answers provided by AI believe this to be ‘the truth’. I have been part of a conversation with Leta; are the questions about facts where there is only one answer, the answers is, not surprisingly, the same how ever many times you ask the question. However, when it is questions such as ‘what is your favourite music’, ‘is there a good’ and such like, the answer will vary, every time.

In essence, I believe that we humans have created technologies that are well and truly beyond not only our understanding, but, more critically, our ethics and morality. 

 

November 2021

The future is already here – References:

In order of appearance:

  • Chips implanted into our brains – check out this video in which Elon Musk’s neural ink brain chip is explained
  • Choosing your state of mind – this article explores electronics of brain waves, and here a product to help alter brain waves
  • Virtual digital assistants – you may want to check out Ava, and also Alan Thompson‘s conversation with artificial intelligence ‘Leta’ on his website. I had the privilege to be part of one of the conversations and was not quite sure whether to be entirely impressed – which of course I was – or be worried by the reaction of people who were also on the call who seem to believe that Leta was speaking the absolute truth – which I also was …
  • AI narrowing our bandwidth, creating what is referred to as “echo chambers” – this article investigates and explains echo chambers, and here one that tells you how to break out of social media echo chambers 
  • Smart fridges – already offer a huge range of features, as you can find out in this article
  • Aroma diffusers – of course, diffusers have been around for a very long time; today though there does not seem to be a scent you cannot have … for example, ocean air
  • Shared calendars – in don’t think I need to offer ‘evidence’ for this, most large organisations have this … and many feel they are no longer in charge of their own calendar …
  • Erasing memories – check out this article; in my view, if memories can erased, then, surely, they can also be implanted …
  • Deepfakes – the degree to which fakes are increasingly indistinguishable from the real thing are frightening …  Here an article  that explains deepfakes, and offers some amazing – or scary ??!! – deepfake videos; you can even get apps to create your own deepfakes 
  • Humanoid robots who have entirely realistic facial expressions – check out this article, including the videos…
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