Humans – Technology: 0-1

Will our human capability to restrain ourselves defeat our technological capabilities to destroy ourselves?

The big question of this era will be the question whether our human capability to restrain ourselves will defeat our technological capabilities to destroy ourselves. I had to think about this dilemma when reading about autonomous weapons in the newspaper the other day.

Autonomous weapons are nearly undefeatable. There’s no point in trying to neutralize them because their computing power to analyse every tiniest movement that could be a potential threat to them allows them to kill you before you would have the time to aim your weapon at them. This is not science fiction because that’s exactly the kind of technology that empowers self-driving cars today. You simply need to reverse the algorithm from “avoid people” to “kill people”.

Ray Kurzweil, one of the biggest inventors of the past decades and Chief Innovation Officer at Google has been claiming for years that we live in exponential times: Every 18 months computing power doubles, due to Moore’s Law. This means the difference between something that looks like science fiction 7 years ago is something that we consider a commodity today. Think about the iPhone, the human genome, HIV-medication, self-driving cars, etc. Kurzweil calls this the Law of Accelerating Returns.

To understand this idea, imagine things change gradually. In seven years that would mean we go from 1-2-3-4-5-6-7. When things change exponentially (n x n) we would go from 1 – 2 – 4 – 16 – 256 – 65.536 – 4.294.967.296. If you think about this, this means that everything that will be invented next year will be exponentially more powerful than everything that has been invented until this year. That’s why Kurzweil foresees that by the year of 2040 computing power of one computer will exceed the brainpower of a human and 20 years later the brainpower of the entire human race.

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Kurzweil thinks that the biggest threat to humanity is that in the not so distance future terrorist will be able to create biological weapons or killer-nanorobots and 3d-print them at home. And that the speed with which they will be able to wipe the human race from the face of the earth, will be faster than scientists capabilities to send the 3D-printing formula of an antiserum to every household in the world. If you’re interested in this subject watch this disturbing talk on the impact of accelerating information on war and peace.

I am a bit of a technophile, but I’m not a techno-optimist. There’s something very destructive in the exponential growth of technological progress. And this holds true for humanity in general, but also for economic life. In their intergalactic growth, companies like Uber, Airbnb and Amazon destroy as much human capital as they create: the destruction of affordable housing, destruction of protection of low-wage workers, destruction of value for the producers of goods, the economization of every human transaction, etc.

If we choose to stay blind for this, then there will be that day in the future where technological progress will have won, but humanity will have lost.

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