Your private life
What do you think about before you fall asleep? Is it the time you have to wake up in the morning, the duties and chores you keep or perhaps, darker more intimate thoughts that keep you awake – things like AI seizing global power before breakfast? Do you have an inner voice telling you these things or do your process your ideas more abstractly, for example in images? Either way, you take it for granted that your inner thoughts, and indeed your private life generally are your exclusive property, as you should.
But what if someone could hack your brain? Of course, this is every paranoid person’s 21st Century nightmare but it’s not implausible to think that this is already possible. In that regard, may I present billionaire witness A – Elon Musk. – a smug virtual signaler and self-styled genius who fancies himself as a latter day Howard Hughes thrusting into the future (and no amount of apologist bumf from the likes of Douglas Coupland will convince me otherwise).
This year Musk announced his “Neuralink” project causing my sympathetic nervous system-operated hackles to raise up – not least because Musk’s long-term goal (at least one of them) is to achieve “symbiosis with artificial intelligence”, which he perceives as an existential threat to humanity if it goes unchecked.
Question is, what does he hope to achieve by creating symbiosis with AI? does enfilading humans with AI give it a better perspective of us as finite meat puppets with monkey brains and thus engender sympathy (presuming that machines are capable of such emotions)? Or do we become its playthings – amusing pets like tamagotchi or worse, be treated as flies to wanton boys?
We have a right to know before we break out the brain straws.
I think a more relevant question is as billionaires and corporations achieve powers that exceed those of democratically elected bodies, is what is the real existential threat to humanity? I am singularly uninterested in the opinions or activities of billionaires, but they certainly put their unchecked tax dollars to work paying for legions of men of straw to make their manifestos known to the public. The intrusion of their polished ego brainfarts into my newsfeed and mass media is an intrusion of privacy all its own.
Others just cut to the chase like Trump and flip elections with the help of the nearest available technology hucksters (a feat equivalent to 9/11 in terms of its daring and impact to America and the world, I would argue).
Now, I am going off on a tangent with billionaires, but I promise to join the dots in my own mind at least here. The point I am making is that following the notion that power corrupts, and this is a well observed and documented phenomenon since antique times, we cannot hope for the beneficence of the smartest men in the room (Trump excluded here) to do the right thing.
The view from 10 000 feet dictates that everybody on the ground looks like ants. Get the technology right and you can zoom in on individual ants and draw the focus of your sun-like genius with the magnifying glass. Most people on the ground these days wear their lives on a public sleeve called social media. We can comfort ourselves with the notion that we are end-to-end encrypted but most, if not all have been lulled into a false sense of complacency that their lives are private and intact.
He who sups with the devil needs a long spoon as they say.
We somehow think that our lives have been enriched by social media and that the connectivity we gain with friends around the world is a trade-off which we are ready to make. But that trade-off opens multiple windows into our lives, and our personal freedoms – the most important of which is our right to privacy.
Now, going back to the view from 10 000 feet, once you have achieved your billions, presumably money is off the table for something to keep you amused. The smartest man in the room is also probably the dullest too unless he finds something better to do with his time. Hence the raft of ridiculous pet projects they all share – things like extending the view from 10 000 feet to escape velocity levels, finding the elixir of life (what could be duller than a billionaire living forever?) and of course, dear Elon attempting mind meld with AI to achieve heroic levels of intelligence and control over AI or perhaps, us?
There are all sorts of nutball conspiracies out there right now, one of them being the formation of a one world government and placing its digital heel on our collective neck. As with another popular conspiracy, that of aliens, Illuminati in league with them or other nefarious occult organizations, it all feeds in together to a picture of a Dr Evil-like world domination.
But there are some touch points which seem all too relevant. For example, after 9/11 the US government obtained massive oversight into people’s private conversations online under the auspice of the Patriot Act. And in China, the Communist Party has actively created surveillance based on AI to detect sentiment in people’s faces as they go about their daily business. This combined with a social credit scheme that rewards informants on neighbors with views at odds with the Party seems like Orwell’s 1984 on steroids.
Shortly after 9/11, Bush declaring the war on terror was just as much a conjuring act as Nixon in the 70s declaring the war on drugs. Neither succeeded in conquering the hydras they sought to slay but did succeed in creating surveillance on an unprecedented scale. Taking these known facts into consideration, the key systems have been instituted and scaled. The stage is set, complete with bad actors of all stripes.
Allowing elected governments the right to snoop into your life is a bad idea, whether you take drugs or worse, don’t agree with their propaganda and policies. Whether we wish to preserve our privacy or not, we have unwittingly opened the door to surveillance in the name of security. Handing those same powers over to private individuals who actively create and proselytize the technologies that make this possible is even worse.
These people have their own agendas entirely, usually profit and/or vanity driven and have the funds to buy entire governments.
But at times like these and thinking about the smartest men in the room and their bid for intruding into our lives in the same breath as planetary domination, I take comfort in the thought that on other planets where intelligent life exists (if such may be), these things have already been thought through and dealt with.
Intelligent life forms that have achieved all the major planetary milestones on the Kardashev scale, things like fully harnessing the energy of their nearest star will probably have also been able to eradicate hunger, poverty, war, religion and by default, crude economic systems that feed these blights and spawn billionaires.
And in their bid for planetary privacy, these advanced civilizations have undoubtedly retained their death rays pointing them out to the cosmos waiting for the arrival of a smug band of immortal interplanetary travellers clutching their Louis Vuitton hand bags and Neuralink nose straws.
Time for a timely cosmic bitch slap before the neighbourhood goes up in smoke.
Meanwhile on earth, until such a time that we move up the Kardashev scale, I recommend you keep on taking drugs in psychic defence, draw the curtains, drop your smart phone down the toilet, think virtuous thoughts and prepare for victory.