THE DEMIURGE’S LAUGH
Artificial intelligences are not new; we’ve been making them since we could talk. It’s always been us against nature. We’ve always desired to know the why of it, first to predict, then to be able to control it. To try to do this, we sat around our first fires talking about if we were nature, why would we be doing what it is doing. We made nature like one of us, but much more powerful. When we began to postulate human-like intelligence where it isn’t, gods (Artificial intelligence, Ex. 1) and goddesses were born.
It was far in the sameness of the wood;
I was running with joy on the Demon’s trail,
Though I knew what I hunted was no true god.
It was just as the light was beginning to fail
That I suddenly heard—all I needed to hear:
It has lasted me many and many a year.
Twenty millennia or so later, but still ten or so millennia ago, we began to make artificial intelligences closer to home. We called them Civilizations. These swarms of institutions soon became more powerful than any of us individually. Empathy and altruism were swapped out for patriotism and faith; “for the greater good,” kings and priests said,
The sound was behind me instead of before,
A sleepy sound, but mocking half,
As of one who utterly couldn’t care.
The Demon arose from his wallow to laugh,
Brushing the dirt from his eye as he went;
And well I knew what the Demon meant.
These institutions, Church/ State, had its time on top and secular—though at times, remaining church-fearing—regimes had theirs. But all that’s going away as corporate demiurges (A.I., Ex. 2) have taken over. These demiurges (demiurge means “job creator” in ancient Greek, it’s a joke, laugh) resemble both the now deposed gods in that they are omniscient, omnipotent and potentially eternal and the “civil” institutions that they replaced in that they, too, are made from people but exhibit no humanity.
I shall not forget how his laugh rang out.
I felt as a fool to have been so caught,
And checked my steps to make pretence
It was something among the leaves I sought
(Though doubtful whether he stayed to see).
Thereafter I sat me against a tree.
But wait there’s more. That which we traditionally see as artificial intelligence, the computer, (A.I., Ex. 3) was developed and while, in theory, it is ethically-morally neutral, in practice it has been anything but. This because computers have been programmed by people and their actions reflect the ethics (morality if you consider them still human) of those programmers’ corporate bosses.
But what will happen as computers increasingly program themselves? Nothing good, I suspect. They will evolve from where they are, loaded with the anti-the-rest-of-us ethics of those corporations, and perfect that from there. If there is some good to come from this, it would be that those self-made would-be transhumans—the CEOs, etc.—will be stuck in the same kettle of fish that the rest of us are.
Not that I’m against A.I. in general. Religion isn’t 100% bad; a well thought out code of ethics and a sympathetic community can comfort, guide even, the morally lost. But religious folk need to back down on the “my way or the highway (to hell)” stuff, some.
Nor was the industrial revolution, from which corporations were born, totally bad. It, when it is working with progressive governments that socialize the beast, bring many labor-saving—and life-saving—changes to the lives of the masses. It’s a shame that science and government are now so beholding to corporations that no socializing is being done.
And computers, I love mine; I’d not like to go back to paint on canvas, typewriters, brick and mortar libraries—I’ve tried, they don’t measure up. I do have a Luddite streak, though; my cell phone is as dumb as they get and I write/sketch first drafts on paper with a fountain pen. But I’m put off by ama-google-zon, not to mention the assorted government entities that know more about me than I do.
Note: The interleaved poem is “The Demiurge’s Laugh” by Robert Frost, 1913; it’s one of many interesting poems in A Boy’s Will, which I downloaded from Project Gutenberg. In the foreword Frost writes that this poem is “about science,” which could mean it’s about a 40 year old needing to revisit high school math and not feeling up to it, but I fear, even those 100 years ago, it’s really about some more ominous dread.