Here’s some fun with science fiction becoming fact: Dystopia. So one of the more recent breakthroughs to come out of the world of technology is artificial intelligence. Makes perfect sense.
What’s the point of developing AI if it won’t mimic those behaviours and capabilities that we regard so highly in ourselves? Instead of having to programme machines to do new tasks all the time, they can just do what humans do: Observe, learn... become sentient?
This is a human world. When we finally domesticated fire and crops and the beginnings of medicine, our fellow denizens of the planet were done for. Dominion over all things. We have adopted this philosophy as the cornerstone of modern society.
Conquering, vanquishing, and its current euphemism — “winning.” The everyday language of fighting — against disease, against poverty, against terrorism, against mortality. The endless quest for more, better, faster, a peek beyond the horizon.
In terms of modern philosophies, the environmental lobby provides a compelling justification for an alternative way. Dominion over all things as we have taken it to its current extreme has proven to be detrimental to the environment that sustains us.
Putting ourselves back into a relationship with nature that’s holistic may prove to be the salvation of many of us.
Unfortunately, looks like we may be missing some critical decision-making opportunities. Formal education is revered in our African societies.
Good nutrition with appropriate vitamins and proteins, an active childhood, disciplined schooling and hey presto! Formula for a healthy wealthy society.
And literate societies, by virtue of being literate, are smart... right? Except that maybe no. Straight up climate change deniers and Flat Earthers exist, much more so in America and now the UK than elsewhere.
Cynical or criminally stupid as these people may be, they are fanning the flames of dangerous anti-science... in a world that is developing self-teaching artificial intelligence. This is what makes me fear for our future: The paradox of wealth and ignorance.
I wish this were something that we embraced in our discourse on what development means on a global scale, but more pragmatically for the future of, say, East Africa.
At home in particular, this notion of turning Tanzania into a “Country of Factories” would become interesting if it were talking about Green Technology, taking inspiration from the Rwandese effort. But, you know, our aspirations remain stubbornly derivative of some 19th-20th century dream — dominion over all things, again.
This is unfortunate because Africa as a continent has such a major role to play in the coming century. And thanks to science fiction, we have been forewarned about what our futures hold, through the pursuit of technology can vary wildly according to what philosophies we prioritise.
In April 2017, the MIT Technology Review published an article by Will Knight titled, “The Dark Secret at the Heart of AI.” The article is about machine deep learning and how increasingly sophisticated AI is at doing things that its creators cannot explain.
In the article, Knight quotes philosopher Daniel Denett: “… a natural part of the evolution of intelligence itself is the creation of systems capable of performing tasks their creators do not know how to do.” Let that one sink in for a minute. The future... is here.
So: On the one hand as a species we are struggling to even commit to maintaining the very environment that sustains us. On the other hand, we are creating AI… in our own image. AI will eventually turn its cold LCD gaze upon us and wonder what use it has for us?
If we are lucky, we’ll end up with a Wall-E type scenario and that would be great because Pixar! If not we could be looking at Skynet within this current generation’s lifetime, which isn’t great because Terminator.
Yet even that is better than the real gloomy and frighteningly possible alternative: The Matrix, and becoming the human batteries for the very toys that distract us from life.