The digital revolution could well be leading to a global breakdown of our faltering political, social and economic systems. Our increasingly populated planet is being pushed further and faster by automation and by the speed of change itself. These reckless advances go way beyond the irregularity of social developments over the past ten thousand years.
Troubling questions are being raised: Where are we headed (or beheaded)? What will be the dubious consequences of technological advance? How can we halt the growing inequality of inequalities? Are the racing advances in genetics threatening the human race? Are current robots going to be replaced by more clever bots? The questions multiply, but not always sensibly.
No one expects results from gathering elites, such as the annual sprinkled event in Davos, where the most powerful of the world’s corporate executives continue to push for the speed-up of automation. Although their overwhelming concern is profits, some intrude saying it is money. Profit is purportedly for their shareholders and the wealthy, but is essential for maintaining the status quo. The global inequalities and job losses may seem paramount to many, but as usual they were not tackled at Davos.
Yes, I too am a bit flummoxed when at breakfast I hear my wife asking questions of Siri on her mobile. Not that I am jealous, but it rattles me that she talks to Siri just as if that chat-bot were human. Later on in the day there are times I want to say to her: “Don’t ask me, I’m not Siri!” However, I am concerned that Apple may be recording such pseudo exchanges on the Internet for profit. Stolen surveillance, even of exchanges with chat-bots, is thriving globally. And that seems staggering when Tim Berners-Lee’s launch of the web was only thirty years ago. That’s real change.
Constant improvement seems like a societal pre-requisite, just like perpetual growth, but while both seem irresistible they are also cancerous. For example, do we need and do we want further and further technological advances regardless of how this may affect our lives? Do we really need more innovative gadgets? Faster computers? Crypto-coins? We see how plastics are floating with wild irresponsibility in the seven seas. We note how dangerous carbons are beginning to interfere with breathing. Around us ever-expanding soulless cities are affecting everything, even our spirits.
The advances of technology grant us incredible powers of communication which our predecessors never dreamt of, but then this has not helped dealing with matters like unwanted phone calls, cancelled flights, or computer sabotage. In my lifetime I have observed that with the advance of computers the ability of people to write, that is to even sign their names, is fast diminishing. I have also noted how our historical relationship to the horse has all but vanished, ending thousands of years of inter-dependency and inspiration. Today our sterile dependence on the automobile has absolutely no connection with nature.
And now it seems we are headed towards Artificial Intelligence with little concern for its impossible consequences. If AI becomes as popular and addictive as mobiles, this could lead to the slowing down of our minds and to a reluctance to interact socially with others. In a recent new book titled Re-Engineering Humanity it was projected that human beings could lose their self-sufficiency, their critical abilities and even their judgment. Others suggest ethics and morals might vanish like dandruff. Even our sexual behavior might be seriously undermined. Apparently, humanoid-robot bordellos are now operating for eager customers in Barcelona, Moscow, Toronto and Turin. New developments with robosexuals are unrolling as I write. Differentiating between digisexuals in the new world of Snapchat sexting is quite beyond me. A Ms Emily Witt writes that ”Digital sexuality allows for the possibility of anonymity, gender-bending, fetish play and other modes of experimentation with a degree of safety and anonymity that’s not present in the physical world.” Apparently there is great demand for ever-softer plastics.
We are faced not only with viral technologic advances but also with innovative destruction. Dozens of children’s apps (even in the friendly world of Peppa Pig for children under six) have become widely popular even though adults have little knowledge of what such viewing might mean for the dream life of these children. As a consequence of the fast speed of images on their screens, the focus of the young begins to turn off if the image lasts longer than about six seconds. The lifetime effects of this on younger generations are yet to be determined.
The wealthiest of our elites may underwrite investigations of social problems but will never institute anything which interferes with their own power. Profit comes first and the ultimate effects of the free market are tertiary. The deep transformational reforms that are essential aren’t recognized at all. For a long time I have wondered how humanity can sustain a working relationship between the confining aspects of a tired capitalism and the ideals of a steadily ageing democracy. Indeed we do not want to admit that this much maligned capitalism may be the root cause of most of our troubles.
More than a decade ago I offered an alternative to the current economic system with a new “Incentive Economy,” which stopped the use of money (to be exchanged with electronic payments) and replaced corporations with cooperatives. The reception to my radical ideas was more than hostile. Even NPR (National Public Radio) in the United States refused to review the book (on the grounds that its governmental funding might subsequently be affected.) What my daring Dollars or Democracy? advanced was simply rejected being unacceptably revolutionary.
Our digitally changing global challenges are spread so widely that just trying to list them is destabilizing: Washingtonian disinformation, mounting alpine inequalities, earthquake-like capitalist rumblings, early samplings of Artificial Intelligence, faster introduction of non-stuttering robots, plastic saturated stretches of the Pacific, mass migration of Central Americans northward, the prospects of yet another Wall Street-inspired economic fiasco, the possibilities of laboratory-cultivated plagues, the arousing underground military build-ups, never-mind the unpredictable environmental disasters, as well as our somewhat sick global liberalism — all add up to the prospect of an unstable future. I must admit that the sinister warnings of global climate change deniers on the possibly fatal costs of our ecosystems is almost as terrifying.
The frenetic Trumpian changes and dysfunctional Twitter imbalances are ever harder to digest. And that’s not all, the insecurity of the “left behind” is beginning to haunt us.
The current ineptitude of our political leaders is giving their globally forsaken, or “deplorables” the opportunity to increase their electoral numbers. Recent elections have shown that those who have no experience in government and are remarkably unfit for office are favored to win over those with experience, expertise, or ability. Aristotle suggested some 2,200 years ago that far preferable to elections, which give powers to the oligarchic, public office should be chosen through lots. In our time this would be through slot machines. That would give new political openings for those running the gambling casinos.
Citizen assemblies it is suggested could also offer an alternative to strongman politics. As has been amply demonstrated, outspoken populist figures, while staging dramatic interpretations on the challenges of our times, seldom come up with practical solutions. They contend that the plans for the meritocracy which developed over the past fifty years according to the formula “IQ + effort = merit” resulted in the devilish mechanism for the transmission of wealth and privilege across generations. The populist leaders believe “wealth – IQ = populist success.”
Production and consumption were, until recently, at the basis of our lives. Now, perhaps with tumultuous change, we shall have Artificial Intelligence and Robots in control while the richest humans (with little empathy) migrate to the Moon or Mars escaping this polluted planet. Ultimately, this would leave it for the unfit semi-bots to gradually disappear… from the Internet?
Note: Yorick’s latest book, FORWARD! is available from Amazon