THIS IS A WORK IN PROGRESS. Before Artificial Intelligence (A.I.), or some 800,000 years ago probably, our human ancestors Homo erectus discovered how to wrest fire from burning bushes, and how to control and use this terrifying force of nature. Eventually, they learned how to artificially create fire. We now simply call it “fire”, but to be exact, it should be called Artificial Fire, or A.F.
Thus with A.F. did H. erectus people broaden their food sources, expand those parts of the brain that created culture and language, spread to all parts of the world, and thrive in all ecosystems. A.F. paved the way for the next waves of Homo to dominate the living world, and build civilizations that would transform what it meant to exist as humanity.
In a deep and profound sense, it was fire (or more precisely, A.F., together with language) signaled the end of the old world as H. erectus knew it. Perhaps a most prescient H. erectus elder/sage/medicine man-woman saw visions of what fire would do in the hundreds of millennia into the future:
Fire would be used to create new weapons of mass destruction. Fire itself would be weaponized. We must treat it as an existential threat. It would result in the loss of vast forests and destruction of whole communities, indeed even some of the most beautiful cities and voluminous libraries that our future Homo descendants would build.
In the hundreds of millennia since then, fire and the new technologies bound to it would become an all-consuming source of power–a power so awesome indeed that it would bring forth terrible moral tales like that of Prometheus and ferocious religions that worshipped fire, like Hinduism and Zoroastrianism.
Technology, like I said, is a work in progress. Our interactions with it–and we ourselves–are a work in progress. And so is this future series of blog pieces, or chapters of my “forthcoming” book: a work in progress.
More to follow. #
FIRE WAS ONCE ALSO AN EXISTENTIAL THREAT. It was also weaponized, and led to exclusive castes and cults. It killed off entire communities and burned down the most beautiful civilizations.
A Homo erectus elder/sage/medicine man-woman, upon seeing a group of young members of the band return from the hunt with several sticks from a bush fire, still burning at the end, must have been so terrified that he exclaimed: “Throw it away! Throw it away! It’s an evil spirit that will destroy all of us!”
Guess what happened to the nomadic bands of H. erectus that decided to avoid fire because it was an evil spirit, an existential threat. They were marginalized and eventually became extinct.
P.S. I know, I know, this is an imperfect analogy. (By definition, after all, no analogy is 100% perfect.) I won’t use the same analogy, or set of arguments, for example, to support virus gain-of-function research, or CRISPR experiments on living human cells, especially those conducted in secret corporate/state labs geared for super-profitability and stealth weaponry.
But fire and human language are the two nearest analogies I can think of — because their roots are so deeply embedded into human prehistory that we can more objectively weigh their contributions across the eons as collective human legacy that every individual has the right to acquire and use in constructive ways.
We have laws vs arson and slander. So by all means, let’s have laws that will give strength to the most basic guard rails in developing fully human-aligned AI models. But before we set the laws, let us first first ensure transparency and universal access. ##Follow @junverzola