Technology and Mankind

Who needs who more?

By Naoimh Reilly

Artificial intelligence is in its infancy but soon it will adapt, and grow, and eventually it will no longer need our input to evolve. It will be self-fulfilling.

 

Just stop and think about that for a minute. We desperately need technology to keep up with the frantic pace of life, love and leisure - but the day will come when it no longer needs us. Imagine a world where technology doesn’t rely on us, it does its own thing. Shouldn’t we be putting manners on it now, from the start?

 

This might seem like something from a science fiction movie, but it is not. It’s happening now all around us, with machines able to connect with each other and complete complicated tasks. We already use voice recognition, digital assistants, self-driving cars, Nest and even Netflix. These are all powerful examples of artificial intelligence. 

 

A decade ago, most of these did not exist; now they are part of our everyday lives. Artificial intelligence is growing, learning and refining its abilities continuously. What steps do we need to take to ensure that this pre-pubescent technology is given the tools to enhance our lives in a positive way - and not to put it in danger?

 

We need to stop looking at technology as something separate to us. Technology is part of us now, it’s an extension of our evolution. Technology evolves much like biology does; it’s inevitable. It’s the accumulation of knowledge and it’s going to keep progressing, whether we like it or not.

Our own evolution is evolving and speeding up. If we embrace it and not fear it, we could potentially achieve wonderful things. However, it also has the potential to do harm. 

Leading technology writer and thinker, Kevin Kelly, says that technology is part of an ecosystem that he calls ‘technium’. He believes this technium has its own agenda and he asks: What does technology want? Can technology want something even though it is not conscious, much like a plant wants water or sunlight?  

So, what does technology want from us? Does it want to keep us in the game, so it can continue to grow itself? Like anything that grows, it wants to survive.

We have already begun to assimilate our bodies with technology. We use pacemakers, smart watches track our blood pressure and robots perform surgery. Scientists have developed nano robots, which can potentially be used in our blood stream to attack tumours and cancerous cells. Will we eventually use chips embedded in our skin instead of smartphones? 

Soon, we will be part-biology and part-machine.  Because of technology, we are more likely to be killed by obesity than starvation or war. Technology tips the scales in humanity’s favour

But with great power comes great responsibility and the technology we create can just as easily be used to destroy us. Better weapons and the ability to create deadly pathogens will always be a threat. So, although man-made threats may increase, nature - with the exception of global warming - is not the same threat it used to be. More and more cures for diseases are being discovered every day. 

 

How do we deal with this threatening technology?  Understanding what’s mutually beneficial to us all is a start. Or, to put it more finely, what is ‘mutually assured destruction’? People do not want to destroy themselves and since 1945, when the last atomic bombs were detonated on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, humankind has learnt to resist the temptation to use the deadly weapons it possesses. 

Technological advances mean that much deadlier weapons are possible but violent war is rarer than it has ever been. Wars were once fought over oil, coal, gold and wheat but these days, knowledge is far more valuable than commodities. The nature of war has changed and there are less visible battle front lines; given the increase in cyber war. Technology is, in the most part, responsible for this. The developed world is no longer material-based and the biggest difference now is that we are fighting for freedom and power, rather than our lives.

However, technology is still in it in its infancy, at the whim of human endeavour. Mistakes will be made and limiting these mistakes is key. Humans break laws and will use technology illegally. 

The question we must ask ourselves is: What does humanity strive for? Given that humans are rarely satisfied with what they have, how can we ensure the future will serve us well? Humans always crave more. Technology satisfies this craving to a certain extent. With technology, we possess more power. 

We are setting ourselves ever more daring goals. Organised religion is on the decline and we are looking for something to replace it with. It doesn’t get much bigger than immortality - can we do this through technology?  We no longer live just to survive. We have always put ourselves before anything else. Is trying to make ourselves immortal that far of a stretch? 

The more non-religious we become and the more we consider that there may not be life after death, the more we strive for a solution to the problem of death. As science advances and we gain more of an understanding of decay and how to prevent it, why wouldn’t we try to stay younger and healthier for longer? If technology can help us with this problem, why not see if it can help us avoid death indefinitely? 

Given that technology is part of our evolution, has this quest for eternal life been inevitable since the big bang? Is it all simply the way it was meant to be from the start? With all the dangers and uncertainties technology brings, it is also the great equaliser. There are many uncertainties, but one thing we can be sure of is without progression, we will cease to exist.

While we are alive, technology will progress. We should embrace this progression, instead of fighting it. But, we must shape it now, while it’s in its infancy – or be left behind.