On our watch (approaching the finish line)

March 8, 2017


Have you ever imagined what it would be like living through the break out of the First World War? Have you ever fantasised about living amidst the industrial revolution, French Revolution? Or any other period that changed the structure of societies, cultures, politics, the course of history, development of civilisation. Have you thought about how you would act during such times, what would you do?


The Enlightenment of the Greeks was wiped out, by centuries of dark ages. For hundreds of years, there was virtually no intellectual and moral progress. Given great strides forwards made during our life time and our parents lifetimes. It is hard not to assume that arc of history indeed steadily bends towards justice and better living conditions for all. However, there is no law of physics, no guarantee societies will continue to march towards positive progress.


Investigative journalism is dead. Their business model which was predicated on the monopoly on distribution is gone. Getting New Your Times subscription is not going to change that. Now it’s all about outrage-inducing, click bait spin on current events. Designed to spreads on social media. This is true for both left and right wing media. I am not going to make a lengthy argument about the dead of journalism here. (Two good books that illustrate what media morphed into Trust Me, I’m Lying by Ryan Holiday and So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson). Free press is one of the pillars of functioning liberal democracy. We are now seeing it rapidly crumble into irrelevancy.

Intellectual mainstream and the Left

Watching Liberals, Progressives, Lefties descent into madness of identity politics, oppression Olympics has been the most disillusioning thing over past few years. Instant outrage and virtue signalling with entirely unjustified sense of moral superiority. Ready to sacrifice reason, free speech whenever it clashes with their version of reality. Bravely bigoteering into their Orwellian future. This topic deserves a post of its own. For the sake of the argument, I am trying to make here, I am going to assume above as granted. Philosophical confusion amongst intellectuals may seem fairly inconsequential. However, Marxism once was merely a philosophy, formulated by a crack-pot who did not shower, abused his wife and virtually never worked for living in his entire life. A philosophy that preached equality, how bad can that be? Over a century later, the legacy of his philosophy is still very much present in many parts of the world (ones you would not want to live in). This stuff indeed matters greatly.

Populism and nationalism

For the first time in history more people die from overeating rather than from not eating enough. More people commit succeeding than are killed in wars. Global life expectancy has nearly doubled in last 100 years, from 40 to 70 years. (Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari) Globalisation brought over 70 years of uninterrupted economic growth, prosperity, liberalisation, increasing in living standards. Life is is inarguably the best it has ever been.

Yet demagogues are being elected across the western world. I suspect that crumbling of journalism, the meltdown of intellectuals and social media bubbles created fertile ground for this disillusion, that seems to have proliferated through western societies. A widespread sense of lack of opportunity, economic mobility. People do not seem to value liberty, free speech, the right to privacy, freedom to pursuit happiness as much as they used to. They are entitled, lazy, outraged and disillusioned. If we are already living in the world where Donal Trump is the president and UK in leaving EU. While everything is the best it has ever been. What is going happen next?


There already are systems that can recognise skin cancer as reliably as human experts. Radiologists may soon be replaced by AI systems. Level 5 self-driving cars seem to be less than a decade away. Entire professions taken over by automated systems. We are at the beginning of greatest revolution yet. Industrial revolution replaced muscles. Swapped people with hoes and shovels for tractors and combines, sword-smiths for industrial scale smelting furnaces. This revolution is going replace brains.

Given progress already made, amount of investment and calibre of people involved. As well as extraordinary pay off for succeeding. It is hard to imagine pursuit of AI is not going to be fruitful. How many breakthroughs in machine learning does it take to make an entire profession irrelevant ? Unlike during every economic revolution ever, people saying there will not be enough jobs for people, are right. (If you are not convinced, this time is indeed different, give CGPGrey a chance to convince you otherwise)

Let’s look at 100 years time horizon. Will we have AGI then? Well, unless we are alchemists of intelligence. That is to say, so utterly clueless we don’t even know what questions to ask. Despite seemly much controversy, there does not seem to be any good case against viewing the conciseness and the intelligence as anything else but information processing. Our mind is just interaction of 100 billion neurons, which are made of atoms, which follow laws of physics. Therefore consciousness is just computation (no free will either). It only took 66 years to get from Wright brother’s first flight (1903), to landing a man on the moon (1969). Therefore, it does not seem to be so far-fetched to think we will build AGI within 100 years. Once we have AGI, we have a machine that can design a machine that can build anything. That is the end of human labour. AGI in itself poses whole slew of other challenges. (Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom)

Forgetting AGI for the moment, what percentage of population can be unemployable before it begins to affect everyone. How many jobs does it take for structure of our societies to begin to crack? There are thousands of steps between now and AGI. Each of those steps will mean decrease in job market size. We are going have to deal with consequences of AI long before (i.e. now) we have AGI. It is hard to conceive of what will civilisation looks like in the post-scarcity world. Harder yet, how do we transition from where we are today to Start Trek utopia where no one has to work. We are in process of obliterating need for human labour, while building a god. With governments that are reactive rather than proactive, crumbling journalism, philosophical confusion. In the world where majority of people believe in iron age fairy tales about invisible man in the sky while being convinced climate change is a hoax. An entitled, weak, ignorant, deeply divided generation that can’t agree on basic facts, will have to deal with a challenge unlike any humanity have ever faced before.


I really think we might be headed into a catastrophe. The answer to Fermi paradox might be one that does not shine favourable light on our species. Best case scenario is we are going to go through tumultuous period of massive social displacement, manage to restructure our societies as we approach singularity. Oh, and solve global warming at the same time. And solve the control problem. Certainly, capitalism and liberal democracies, at least as we know them, will not exist within a century. We are now going through the greatest technological, cultural, societal transition in human history. As crazy, crack-poty as this sounds, facts are facts. Estimates used here are of those at the top of their fields. I don’t see how one can come to different conclusion. (I’d really like to)


So, if you ever imagined what it would be like living through events of historical importance? You do not have to imagine anymore. If you thought about how you would act during such times, what would you do? Well, what are going to do?

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