The AI Apocalypse Isn't What You Think
Aug 23, 2023
Looking at the runaway opinions across the news and social media, it isn't hard to imagine a future in which an elite few and their closest cabals run the world. Protected by overlapping layers of autonomous infrastructure directing swarms of drones, robots, and satellites which work tirelessly around the clock to keep the hordes of starving, angry rioters at bay. Knowing that if they can just hold out until the herd naturally thins itself, there will be nothing standing in their way of owning the world, and rebuilding it to their design and desires.
While it is fun fodder for science fiction, it is highly unlikely. Though, not impossible. We have to assume that some, if not many, are currently running through these very scenarios to determine if it is in their better interest to play nice with society, or haul up the drawbridge and prepare to wait out the siege.
In the past, when society became too lopsided, it was naturally corrected. Often by the many lopping off the heads of the "haves" and meting out those goods Robinhood-style to bring the world back into an acceptable level of equilibrium. Most of the time, it doesn't have to go that far, because the mere threat of violence was enough to make those in positions of power yield some of it in exchange for keeping their neck intact. Of course, in those times out numbering a royal guard hundreds or thousands to one provided great enough odds of victory no matter how well armed and armored the guards might be. Against a horde of that size, a king or queen could expect their head to be parted from their body eventually if the violence lasted long enough.
More recent technological developments in the weapons industry, paired with sophisticated robotics and AI, changes that algebra quite quickly. What good are numbers against a swarm of drones that can dispel gases, shrapnel, area of effect weapons, and tried and true bombs and bullets in a volume that is hardly comprehensible?
The logistics would be complicated, certainly, but no more so than the military industrial complex is already used to solving. And if the robber barons of the past are any indicator, vertical integration of an entire supply chain could, in today's day and age, essentially make a billionaire a nation-state level actor entirely on their own. They could bunker down and play tower defense, sourcing their own raw materials, energy, manufacturing, production and maintenance. Not only of machinery and arms, but food, textiles, medicines, and all the other things a modern economy enables us to take for granted.
It wouldn't even be difficult for the modern day oligarchs to justify their rationale for battening down the hatches and enduring the storm. The world is vastly overpopulated, especially given the modern consumption habits of western countries. We've damaged the ecosystem beyond any simple and immediate repair, and the problems will only continue to get worse and more cataclysmic the longer we keep our heads in the sand.
We've reached a point where we can gallop foolishly off the cliff, or we can wrest back control of our fate and make the difficult decisions that need to be made. Is it better we ALL die out doing nothing, or that some die off but consciousness remains along with an opportunity to bring the world back into balance. Rather than letting chance unravel all the progress and potential humanity has, use technology and automation to rebuild a beautiful world of abundance for those who remain.
On the surface, it sounds callous, evil, and even uncaring. However, the world will continue to carry on, uncaring and unconcerned with the welfare of humanity, whether humanity does so intentionally or haplessly. If the sun were exploding and only a handful could be spared aboard escape ships, most would have no issue with the mere fact that only some people would be spared. But in this slow motion apocalypse of our own creation, choosing to spare a few rather than mindlessly killing everyone seems to make someone a monster.
How many levels of abstraction are required to turn a savior into a supervillain?
And yeah, that makes for a fun story or movie. But as I said, it's unlikely for two primary reasons. The first is the simple interconnectedness of humanity. Everyone has 6 degrees to Kevin Bacon, and less for many others. It wouldn't be easy to decide where to draw the line between who survives and who doesn't without bisecting spouses, parents, families, friends and more. People, for the most part, don't want to turn on their families, to draw a boundary between themselves the people with which they went to school, play sports, go to shows, or share any number of scenes.
If someone did succeed in drawing those lines, there is still the fact that our economies, internet, and production processes are so interconnected, that it would be incredibly difficult (though not impossible) to build your own proprietary tools in such quantities and of such a quality that they could sustain others being turned on them. Or prevent them from being hacked or twisted in some form to work against themselves.
Finally - there are far more heroic and humane ways to achieve the same vision professed by these nephilistic want to be "saviors". The coming rise in AI, robotics, automation, sustainability, and more is our first viable chance to shift the global economy from what it, essentially, a giant pyramid scheme.
While economists panic about the coming boom in older retirees and a dearth of younger workers to shoulder the load, we now have the potential to carry that weight using tools and technology, instead of only the labor of the next generation. If we're only willing to pause, and take the time to be intentional about what our future should look like.
How much is enough? How many is too many? When life is detached from a capitalistic purpose to "create value", what then, will be our purpose?