The advent of ChatGPT, the first iteration of AI for the general public has caused a great deal of anxiety over the possible impact of this new technology.
Most of that angst is around how quickly AI is likely to eviscerate once stable careers and jobs. It might have seemed early on that perhaps self-driving trucks would replace long-haul truckers; self-driving cars would make the taxi driver obsolete. This did not raise too much concern, unless you were, of course, a long-haul truck driver.
But ChatGPT demonstrated that other jobs, such as lawyers, Wall Street traders, writers and journalists, let alone students and teachers suddenly might find themselves unemployed, if not also unemployable.
Now there was angst amongst the elites.
But today, in an OpEd piece in The NY Times, Yuval Harari, author of the best-selling Sapiens, raises a far more interesting, and far more frightening prospect — that AI will ultimately (and not that far off, apparently), come to replace and surpass human imagination and creativity.
“What would it mean for humans to live in a world where a large percentage of stories, melodies, images, laws, policies and tools are shaped by nonhuman intelligence, which knows how to exploit with superhuman efficiency the weaknesses, biases and addictions of the human mind — while knowing how to form intimate relationships with human beings?”
There seems to be little question that AI is going to start producing novels, music and even movies as the tech gets better and better and as microprocessors, following Moore’s Law (RIP Gordon Moore who died this week) get faster and cheaper.
Harari, Harris and Raskin are worried about the implications of AI surpassing human capacity for arts, music and every aspect of our entertainment and intellectual achievements. This is certainly bad, but I think the danger is far worse and far more frightening than even they imagine. This relates to the marriage of AI with the manufacture of media.
The notion of Media itself is a relatively new event in human history. For most of our time on this planet, the idea of media barely existed. Prior to the invention of the printing press, the largest library in Europe was at Cambridge University — it held 40 books.
The printing press was the first step into mass media, but the concept really took off relatively recently, first with the advent of radio in the 1920s, then television in the 1960s and finally the web and all that has followed.
Today, we live in a world awash in media — almost all of it electronic and almost all of it video, film or television. The average person today spends an astonishing 8 hours a day, every day, watching movies or TV or videos. That is more time than we spend doing anything else. Your grandparents might have gone to the movies once a month, and for an hour, they were transported to an artificial world, one of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers or Oz, in which they could escape the real world.
Today, we are essentially living in a movie theater all the time. We never leave. Our connection to the fake world is rarely broken now. Our sense of reality bears less and less connection to the real world and is more and more a product of that which Hollywood or Netflix or TikTok manufactures for us.
When we turn over the making of content to AI, we create a device that can deliver to us, on-demand, at any time, a world that is completely constructed to our own demands, desires and fantasies. Tailor-made to our every whim; highly personalized, on-demand and virtually limitless. We will no longer have the shared experience of Shakespeare or even Spielberg. The real world will effectively cease to exist. We will live in a perpetual and never-ending dream world of our own making.
Perhaps as Climate Change makes the planet increasingly uninhabitable, it may be that a fake world is the only place that we find livable.
It may be our fate in the end.
As Stephen J. Gould once said, “in the end, it may be proven that intelligence is not the best trait for the survival of a species.”
This concept is discussed in far greater detail in my new book: The Rise of the Mediaverse — The Death of Truth.