Will AI Hack Humanity?

Wired explores this topic via discussion between Yuval Noah Harari (YNH), historian/philosopher, and Fei-Fei Li (FL), an AI scientist. (Harari wrote on an article on free will that I discussed here.) Nicholas Thompson (NT), from Wired magazine moderates the discussion. This thread will be a repository for my notes on the discussion.

One thought on “Will AI Hack Humanity?

  1. NT: But what exactly is the future brain hacking going to be that it isn’t today?

    YNH: Much more of the same, but on a much larger scale. I mean, the point when, for example, more and more of your personal decisions in life are being outsourced to an algorithm that is just so much better than you. So you know, you have we have two distinct dystopias that kind of mesh together. We have the dystopia of surveillance capitalism, in which there is no like Big Brother dictator, but more and more of your decisions are being made by an algorithm. And it’s not just decisions about what to eat or where to shop, but decisions like where to work and where to study, and whom to date and whom to marry and whom to vote for. It’s the same logic. And I would be curious to hear if you think that there is anything in humans which is by definition unhackable. That we can’t reach a point when the algorithm can make that decision better than me.

    In my opinion, the number is independent and authentic decisions an individual makes is pretty small–I would guess much smaller than Harari’s number. By “independent” I mean without input or influence from an outside source, and by “authentic” I mean an accurate and direct reflection of the individual. If I become a Christian, largely based other people’s understanding of Christianity, my understanding and decision isn’t really independent. If I become a Christian to please someone else, then the decision is not really authentic. Based on this, I tend to believe the instances when people understand or choose in a truly independent and authentic way is not very large.

    I don’t think this is bad or worrisome. One couldn’t function if one had to constantly know and choose in independent and authentic ways. The bigger issues involve when one should know and choose in authentic and independent ways. An equally important issue involves the sources and methods one relies on when one isn’t knowing or choosing in an independent and authentic way.

    On this last point, analyzing AI, new technology, and other means individuals rely on for understanding or decision-making is totally valid and very important. If these things start to usurp the individual from have ultimate control over these questions, that can be bad. At the same time, one could argue this is already happening to a large extent right now. (If that’s the case, we should also consider discussion reducing the reliance on existing technology.)

    But my sense is that Harari seems to think individuals make more conscious and intentional decisions and their understanding and knowledge is based more on the individual than I actually think is the case.

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