I write with the conscience of a life-long optimist. (There is much more than that statement, but let it suffice for this post), always expecting good or better outcomes in the long run. Having said that, I believe “progress” is a false religion. You need look no further than the twentieth century for your proof. So you might say that I believe in the pursuit of human progress, but do not view progress in determinist terms. Maybe this is a statement too technical for a good post, yet I consider it important to declare if you, the reader, continue on.
Achieving progress requires overcoming some sort of adversity, whether the source — personal or social — is Evil itself or simply the challenges posed by life. We humans generally have it within our capacity to apply ourselves to the adversity we face and realize positive outcomes. (The death camps of the Holocaust or the Soviet Gulags might have been avoided or minimized if good people had not looked the other way). Often, the outcomes may be other than what we expected or hoped for. After all, failure is often the source of learning, growth, improvement, self-knowledge, etc.. There may be much suffering along the way. Yet, overall, Humanity has done well over the long run.
Right now, my conscience is very uneasy. My optimism is clouded. The challenges posed by technology — the product of human brilliance — are pressing upon Humanity, and good people are not paying attention, or worse, choosing to look the other way. The time span we have to face down these challenges is small by nearly all, if not all, historical comparisons, and it is deceptively small, because Humanity’s survival skills do not include perception of exponential change.
The threat of nuclear war is growing. Threats from bioengineering (pathogen development, DNA editing, development of a super-race(s), etc.) loom large. Autonomous weapons/soldiers (see for example Slaughterbots https://futureoflife.org/2017/11/14/ai-researchers-create-video-call-autonomous-weapons-ban-un/) drone wars, cyber wars, cyber/civil-function winters resulting from high-level nuclear explosions, space-based weapons, etc. represent a new class of destruction ranging up to catastrophic.
And then, there is artificial intelligence (AI). Though involved in some of the just listed threats, AI is a threat itself, up to the point of human extinction. It holds, also, the potential to open a future of hope and, to borrow Peter Diamandis’s phrase, “radical abundance.” http://www.diamandis.com
TroubleisNear.com has already registered (screamed?) a call for urgent attention. This series of posts — Conscience and Conflict [of Interest] is aimed at the Technology community in general, the AI community in particular, and the leaders in AI development specifically: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and a second tier of developers, including universities/academia. It will be a call to accountability for their actions, intentions, claims, and promises, such as the Asilomar Principles. Signing on to such a document is easy, though for at least one prominent scientist, I know he felt peer pressure. Being accountable is an entirely different matter, especially when the conflicts of interest are so powerful and varied.