Much information of the emerging artificial intelligence era is currently available across a wide variety of websites, blogs, video offerings, books, podcasts, etc.. When I started to follow this content several years ago, I was struck by the lack of serious consideration of the just-before-the-singularity environment and the anxieties that might be prevalent. So, I thought, it might be fun to take a stab at a fictional but arguably realistic and non-hyperbolic description. Trouble is Near, the novel, represents this effort.
As I continue my search for an agent and publisher, I have followed the field even more closely and come to the conclusion that there is also a content void in the commentary. I write with the conscience of a life-long optimist. (Okay…I am more than that statement, but let it suffice for now). As such, I am 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 continues on.
This blog is intended to stir up something more than a discussion to fill the void. Something… something much more…is needed. Urgently.
Humankind is on the brink, but the dynamics and consequences of change are being discussed in a relatively closed circle of technologists and sideline observers. Many openly acknowledge and cheer on the end of the human era, arguing a manifest destiny for evolution to take our intelligence to a higher form: AI. Those in the debate who raise warning flags are attempting to alert society, but the warnings tend toward scholarly and academic.
When voices such as Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking, and Elon Musk have spoken more forcefully with the advantage of their public recognition, the warnings have fairly quickly faded into the background. The possible exception is Elon Musk, who seems to grab almost every opportunity to direct attention to this issue. The one major-media exception I am aware of is Glenn Beck, who regularly re-visits this topic.
So who am I to take up this cause? I was a senior executive at The New York Times during its growth into a national medium and through its emergence as a leading news/opinion presence on the internet. I witnessed and in many ways oversaw the introduction of technology into almost every process, as my colleagues and I struggled to reshape the cost structure to survive the industry upheaval. When I became president and general manager in 2004, more than 3,400 full-time employees reported through the chain of command to me. By the time I retired at the end of 2012, that number hovered around 1,300. A good number of those positions were contracted out to private businesses or eliminated through the reform of long outdated processes. But a plurality, I estimate, were eliminated as the result of technology that enabled streamlining. Put differently, I oversaw a workforce reduction that stands as a microcosm of the changes we soon face on a national and global scale.
This blog, then, will attempt to organize and highlight some of the best available content to inform and fuel an open discussion. (I am currently in the midst of major revise #4 of the novel, so my apologies for sporadic attention through the end of summer). I will offer commentary but also strive to foster a healthy, respectful exchange of views. Flamers and bomb-throwers can go elsewhere. But I will not settle for discussion alone. I will call to action, through donations, petitions, political pressure and action.
I do believe there are bridges to Humanity’s survival and even to a future of “radical abundance,” again borrowing the phrase from Peter Diamandis. These bridges do not yet exist, and I suspect they will come into existence as if they were suddenly appearing stepping stones. Some of them will come into existence, I suspect, only through the actions of ordinary citizens. You must not fail to take responsibility.
If the curtain is coming down on humanity, whether in twenty years or seventy-to-one-hundred years, don’t you think you should have some input before it is too late?
Stand up and be heard!