“In the 21st century… Humans will lose their economic and military usefulness, hence the economic and political system will stop attaching much value to them.”
— Juval Noah Harari, Homo Deus.
True enough, nations have always relied on foot soldiers to fight wars of defense or expansion. Business too depended on rank-and-file workers to produce both life’s necessities and conveniences. All this changed with the industrial revolution when machines relieved warriors and laborers of much of the physical chores of waging wars, producing goods, and rendering services.
Then came the digital revolution. Computers took over both of humans’ manual and mental labor. Developed nations now fight their wars with unmanned drones and target-seeking smart bombs. Robots are also taking over many of the jobs humans used to do in the manufacture, sale, record-keeping, delivery, etc. of goods and services.
Enters Artificial Intelligence (AI), the latest model of which can do just about anything error-free and faster than any human can ever do. (I once asked AI to write my Independence Day column and it did so in perfect English in two seconds flat. No, it’s not what I published). Before, it was FOMO (fear of missing out); now AI is giving humans FOBO (fear of becoming obsolete).
War is big business and business is inextricably profit oriented. Thus, it is not hard to imagine how those who own powerful algorithms can render the working class useless with less costly AI. The dire result? In Harari’s words: “If algorithms push humans out of the job market, wealth and power might become concentrated in the hands of the tiny elite that owns the powerful algorithms, creating unprecedented social and political inequality.”
So, what are our leaders doing to minimize AI’s negative impact on our working class? Will they simply shift to owning and controlling AI to ramp up the profitability of their businesses? Or will they be socially responsible enough to lead us in a search for new values to attach to Filipinos in general, to the working class in particular?
Judging from their current social behavior, the chances of the second alternative happening are slim. Our business and political leaders do not really care for Filipino workers. How else can we explain the latter’s perennial life of poverty?
Still, we have to face AI’s threat to the usefulness of most, if not all, of us. Anything can happen with AI which is pure logic and lacks consciousness and emotion. Its algorithm can conclude, without any qualms of conscience (it has none) to rid earth of not only useless but disastrous humans.
But we are conscious beings, capable of the emotions of love and compassion. Hallmarks of genuine human-ness, these qualities define homo sapiens and differentiate us from unconscious and unfeeling AI. Our survival, therefore, might ultimately hinge on our willingness to live a genuinely human life.
Easier said than done.