Despite the tonedeaf denial of the likes of, say, Peter Diamandis or Hans Rosling, a lot of people world wide are unhappy. I would say – too man people are unambiguously despairing. We are seeing a tripling of americans dying of diseases of despair between 1995 and 2018. If such a demise is an actual metric of such despair the number of americans in deep despaur could be several orders of magnitude greater than this number. Right now 14% of americans report being very unhappy.
I have always considered myself a “card carrying” transhumanist counting several such as my friends. Transhumanism is an ideology of unbridled optimism and utopian thinking. Similar terms would be “blue sky thinking” or “persistent altruism” or “idealist futurism”. Not all people who consider transhumanism share this view – many world wide hate the very idea of transhumanism, and in many occasions the ideology is looked at as one of the most dangerous ideologies in existence. I wouldn’t say that most Transhumanists I know are unassailable optimists. I’d rather label them (IMHO) persistent realists, that have a keen sense of opportunity, live in generously comfortable conditions, and may not always be fully cognizant of the darker side of reality. Some folks I deeply respect in UK academic cicrles fit this descriptor (you know who you are) and I considet them substantially more educated than I am in most matters – but I fear these people lack some morbidly dystopian perspectives I may have.
This is not a perfect world. In fact, the last five years have convinced me that the current world we’re all in is probably one of the more miserable timelines thinkable. Our leaders act downright incompetent, if not to a large degree sociopathic, and it may spell literal doom for democracy, the current era of unhistorical prosperity, civilization – down to the very biosphere. Climate change is a reality we are far from contending with, and there is abundant blame to go around – blame as in – people in responsible positions are doing things that actively make the world a worse place.
As we see the result of this is a lot of very angry, very distressed and very bad informed human beings. I may go even further and accuse the world management castes of creating a climate where a significant percentage of human beings have effectively drifted in a psychiatric level of insanity looking at and thinking about the world. Such mental states can become quite destructive, in particular in religious movements and cults, as they aspire to literally extinguishment. Significant parts of the world not merely believe in “end times”, they actively welcome judgement, and many believe that they will be “saved” whereas the vast majority of humanity will be punitively murdered by an angry and vengeful ‘god’.
Most higher mammals have a mental predisposition of fairness, where they will act with self-defeating strategies if they feel they have been consistently slighted, belittled, hurt or treated unfairly. Humans groups will respond with suicidal tactics to lash out against overwhelming adversaries, not to try to win, but to inflict as much suffering on their enemies as possible. We witness this hatred with cults, who may opt fo truly bestial rituals of vengeance what they label as they enemies, and will often lash out blindly and sadistically at relatively innocent bystanders, to ritualize their hatred and turn it into a spectacle.
Suicide cultists will use NBC attacks when given half a chance. International politics have for decades become gruesomely deformed by terrorism and consequtive wars against terror. Muslim terrorists, far right movements, far left movements lash out, lone wolves, men who are angry they can’t find partners – once despair crosses into this realm they don’t care about selfpreservation and just want to trade in their life to inflict mass death.
There is now something new that is theoretically substantially more deadly than we have ever seen before. Elon Musk insists that artificial intelligence is now something that is far more deadly and dangerous than any weapon of mass destruction we have constructed before. The technological capabilities to develop some form of General human level AI is still years or decades removed. A lot of researchers believe this is much closer than most people seem to believe – mere years – and that we urgently need massive research into forms of AI that “can be controlled”, are “friendly” or “altruistic” or “reflect the best human values”. Consequently it stands to reseon that comparatively forms of such “quickly expanding” AI that are “unfriendly”, or care absolutely nothing about the interests of humanity would be years easier to research, develop and boot up. How comparatively difficult would it then be to create an AI that is absolutely and ruthlessly disinterested or even actively hostile to all humans, say, a Skynet that is very expansionistic and aggressive, and let it rip loose in the world?
The end conclusion may be that we as a species can increasingly ill-afford to have massive sections of humanity left bereft of the most basic resources to live and be happy. Even the most advanced societies on the planet routinely consigns whole cities to infestation by truly desperate, gruesomely destitute, psychologically severely unhinged and sweepingly self medicating on horrible chemicals. Whole countries have million people slums, where people starve around them, overrun with crime, with no way out, no hope. These people are sometimes almost intentionally abandoned, cordoned off and left to conditions we in relatively rich, affluent, developed nations would potentially stir us into suicide.
The world risks generating the absolute, most terrifying millenial death cult of all – one that clearly perceives an answer to this atrocity – and that is to repay such cruelty with similar coin, and ‘pretty soon’ it may become easier and easier every year to do so. If you listen to Elon Musk and similar AI researchers, such as Hugo DeGaris, they clearly state that in a few decades, just a minute investment of research will allow people to create the seed for a general AI that is recursively self-improving, and that considers every aspect of the planet – including the cellular material of humanity – as raw material to feed its own expansion.
Imagine the realization that some minor angry cult somewhere in a remote country lashes out in this manner against some local despot, and without giving a damn, stirs up a lightning fast expansion of an impossible to eradicate form of AI life, one that treats human life with a casual disregard of, say, the typical carnivorous insect. Imagine the horror of billions of people as we see all of humanity go extinct in mere weeks because some local death cult was angry at a local dictator. Imagine the absolute sense of victory of such a cult – even as they died horribly, knowing that finally they had the power to repay all the suffering they endured, and drag all of humanity with them into annihilation?
We can no longer afford to let billions of people live in true despair. These billions are quickly becoming a petri dish for instilling these billions with the urgency to die and take the rest of us with them. Many people who read this will have themselves sensed periods of absolute despair and anger in their own life. Some may even realize they themselves have been at a point in their own life where they could have done this. Maybe some reading this are there in that dark place.
Investment in the development of “friendly” AI seeds may be very smart thing to do. But if we want to survive as a species we must realize that in cultivating whole cultures of neglect and bitterness and espair we sow the seeds of existential risk. By abandoning human beings on a near industrial, automated scale, we are emgineering the seed of species oblivion for all life on this world. And the most tragic realization is that some of our leaders might actually deserve this outcome.