Don Rogers: And you think I’m out there
Maybe the best way to deal with today is to think more about tomorrow. This moment is so overheated, unhinged. We’re down to people bearing signs and flags pushing and shoving on our local streets? Really?
“Patriots” declaring they are standing up for the police instead inciting riot? Thanks a lot. Others literally fighting for peace and tolerance, scrawling a hateful message on a misguided café’s window, firing an air gun at flag wavers?
Everyone huffing in the aftermath about those evil others, somebody oughta do something, feeling good and righteously outraged. Unable to admit their part in causing the mess. Making things worse.
This in a community big enough to support civil rights and show respect for the people we rely on to protect all of us. At least I like to think so. These are not mutually exclusive ideals or needs. Who do you think the Black Lives Matter ralliers in Nevada City called for help from the thugs?
In all this free exercise of standing up and being heard is anyone listening? Even to themselves?
What exactly is the point? Making a better world doesn’t seem to be the prime consideration here. We’ve lost our minds.
In that absence lately of the human variety, I think often about artificial intelligence and where it will go in the next 100 years.
Progress toward machine sentience has long stalled, our puny human brains difficult to emulate with our elegant parallel processing. I mean the “I’m sorry Dave I’m afraid I can’t do that” sort of entity in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” made when 2001 seemed so far in the future.
Hal remains firmly science fiction today, and many in this field doubt that will change anytime soon, if ever. Others, some of humanity’s best, farthest reaching thinkers, predict self-aware AI arriving between 2040 and 2050. Then look out.
Meantime, advancements in automated thinking are piling up quickly and indeed upending our lives while we distract ourselves in everyday melodrama.
Maybe we don’t notice so much as robots build our cars and fulfill our Amazon orders. How about when AI becomes our doctors, lawyers, engineers? When, absent the too clumsy human touch, machines invent, build and repair these entities?
OK, so someday, the software thinks and the hardware enables it to do anything. Beat us at chess and Go, do the driving, the farming, manufacturing, writing better versions of this column, policing, teaching, managing, even leading.
So what? All this capability, all this stuff.
To what end? For whom?
Pandemics end, presidents are elected, moments pass. How much adds up? How much will we remember? What about now will matter in 100 years?
Some of our more existential problems can be solved right now. Drinking water, for instance. This is mostly an economic and political issue at this point, given our ability to make saltwater fresh and pump any fluid anywhere in the world.
Innovations in energy are at the cusp, if looking outside the window of today. The fossil fuel era that seems like forever will be a finger snap looking back.
Climate change exists now, and humans have just about everything to do with it, just as we’ve remade the entire ecosystem of the globe in almost any way we can conceive. We’re rather obviously in a race between solving this and oblivion as a species, Mother Earth shaking us off like a bad cold.
I worry a little less about climate change and even the straight up arc of the human population pandemic — not slowed in the least by COVID-19 — than even the comparatively dumb version of artificial intelligence.
Dumb AI will help humanity solve these problems that seem so large today but will prove only secondary, I suspect. Artificial sentience, should it come, will make it happen faster and deeper than we can imagine.
This cure for pandemics of the future and global warming we’ve wrought on ourselves may well become our biggest problem, especially if it reasons that humanity’s biggest issue is the simplest: There are billions too many of us for the Earth to bear.
Sound unhinged? No doubt. But I find that considering the future past my own lifetime cools me down somehow, gives me perspective, makes me maybe a little more sane.
Because the tussling in Grass Valley and Nevada City? That’s just nuts.
Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4299.
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