Thought Themes

I have noticed that over the past few years, perhaps since we moved to Nevada City, that I have had certain themes in my thought. I think that maybe having a stable place that we are living, in contrast to our vagabond lifestyle in 2012, allows me to be more introspective.

One of my favorite times of day is often laying in bed before I go to sleep. I am usually a belly sleeper, and I find that if I lay on my back at bed time that I do a lot more thinking for some reason. During these times I tend to think of whatever theme has been dominating my thoughts for the past few months.

My themes tend to last for months at a time.

For a while, after reading Kurzweil’s The Singularity Is Near, my thoughts have been on the radical artificial intelligence future. In my view (to steal a Bernie-ism), Kurzweil is far too optimistic. It may be that his Utopian future does come to pass. However, I am cautious about putting so much optimism in our AI overlords. We have very real problems to worry about before artificial super intelligence arrives to save us all. Relying so much on AI to save us seems to be a gamble. What if we screw ourselves over with climate change before AI has reached its full potential? This concern is completely separate from the existential threats that Nick Bostrom raises in his book, Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies. Bostrom’s example of a paperclip optimizing AI turning the entire Earth, all of its life, and beyond, into a massive amount of paperclips reads like something out of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but in my mind it is an entirely plausible example.

Mostly as I lay in bed at night thinking about these things, I am thinking in the context of imagining what my own life will be like in certain scenarios. In the case of an intelligence explosion, it is hard to imagine what my life might be like in 50 years. In that time, we might have uploaded our brains onto a digital medium. In Kurzweil’s examples, the entire universe could be one big computer. How could I possibly conceive of what life might be like in this situation? Rather, I think more in the shorter term. I think about driverless cars and how that would affect daily life. But more importantly I think about how it would affect my profession of farmer. AI will probably take over the thousands-of-acres commodity farms first. The wheat and soybean farms will be largely automated. Eventually, however, AI will come for the small vegetable farms as well. What will it do to my sense of self when machines exist to the degree that I show up one day and find that all there is for me to do is sit in a lawn chair and drink a beer? An AI-powered machine will be planting, weeding, watering, harvesting, washing, packing, and delivering my produce all more efficiently than I could ever dream of doing myself. That first day of sitting in a lawn chair, drinking a beer, and watching the machines do all the work on the farm might indeed be glorious. But I doubt the 50th day will be glorious.

I do believe that humans have a need to feel needed in this world. If I feel that there is no work that I could do that is truly useful, that no one in my town is expecting anything of me, that no one will notice if I don’t show up for work, I can say personally that that will be a huge blow to my sense of self-worth. I imagine the same will be true for many other people, and I think that AI is coming for other people’s jobs a lot sooner than mine. What will happen to the tens of millions of truck drivers, accountants, lawyers, journalists, and others, who will be put out of work by AI? I think we could be facing a huge mental health crisis in this country.

I do think that will adequate planning we can mitigate the problems that might arise as AI gets more and more powerful. But given the current state of politics in this country, I don’t have high hopes that we will tackle this problem proactively.

Next time on my blog, we can talk about Buddhism!

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