( A Ten Minute Read)
What will Sparks’ it?
Will artificial intelligence bring us utopia or destruction?
Some of hypotheses are undeniably hysterical, for sure, but the consequences will be more terrifying, and indefensible, than we have ever seen before.
It’s always tempting to predict death and destruction, because you’ll be at least a little bit right and no one will fault you if you’re wrong.
So will it be a clash of civilizations, severe climate change resulting in climate mitigation; resource depletion, a populist uprising. The development of robotic soldiers with the ability to wage war without putting troops on the front line. Computer glitches causing corporations wars; or diplomatic misunderstandings, all of which can lead to war. Terrorism, inequality, and internal political or civil strife can also create the pressure for war.
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, there were only a few hundred Islamist fighters in the Hindu Kush mountains. Fast forward through 16 years of the war on terror costing some $4,000bn (£3,300bn) and leaving 1.3 million dead, and the number of terrorists is currently about 100,000. Even on its own terms, the war on terror has been an abysmal failure. How on earth did this happen?
If civilization conflicts are not the least of our worries there are indeed a vast verity of triggers.
The Trump transition is likely to exacerbate US-China tensions. Trump has threatened a trade war with China. Kim Jong Un decides to attack his neighbors in the South Pacific and Trump decides to fire back.
The Ukrainian crisis was preceded by two decades of NATO expansionism up to the borders of Russia and now it is widely recognized that Russia is waging a campaign of covert political manipulation across the United States, Europe and the Middle East.
The original post-war European Union project was based around peace, social justice and harmony. The unraveling of this project might be Brexit accompanied by rising nationalism, which is likely to exacerbate the dangers of war on a continent with a fraught history of bloody conflict.
The Middle East cauldron centered around Isis and the Syrian war.
The Syrian war has seen allies – Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey – arming and funding radical Jihadist groups, such as the al-Nusra front. The terrorist attacks in Europe have demonstrated the difficulty in containing the spill-over. The Syrian war has seen the return of great-power politics with the involvement of Russia. This contamination has the potential for a wider conflict in which western countries could be drawn in.
India and Pakistan could go to war
Take your pick.
Mine is in keeping with the default operational mode of capitalism.
One might even argue that capitalism often resolves systemic economic crises through war. After all, a war economy with militarization, mobilization, full employment and jingoism can be viewed as the ultimate solution to economic woes and social unrest.
We are now at the beginning of Technology that is overseeing an extraordinary re-distribution of wealth that is tilting society off its axis.
The richest 1 percent have almost 40 percent of our worlds wealth, while the bottom 90 percent have 73 percent of the debt.
This is largely the result of technology.
And just wait until the work force is truly affected by the rise of robots and automation.
You don’t have to look too far back into history to see that when the marginalized have had it with the system, it doesn’t take a lot to set flame to tinder.
The emerging technologies like industrial robots, artificial intelligence, and machine learning are advancing at a rapid pace, but there has been little attention to their impact on employment and public policy. So technology is likely to be at the center of the next major geopolitical battle.
The anti-immigration, anti-one percent, anti-capitalism and anti-everything else we’re seeing right now isn’t just going to go away in a society where people feel their voices are not being heard.
The next major war, wouldn’t be fought with bombs, men, or even robots. It wouldn’t be waged on a battlefield or in the sky.
Instead, it will be a silent war.
During the past couple of decades, most of the world’s private and public infrastructure had become predominantly digital.
The next major war will decimate that infrastructure.
Water-treatment facilities, oil pipelines, dams, electrical grids, telecommunications platforms, food shipments, public and private transportation, traffic lights, prisons, every single drip of media—and a long, long list of other things we need for survival but take for granted—will all be vulnerable.
Our smartphones and computers will be black rectangles. The Internet: poof! Water infrastructure will stop working, power plants will go offline. Crops, which are now operated by digital irrigation systems, will die.
And that will all be in the first few hours.
Imagine what will happen in the coming days, weeks, and months. We will essentially be sent back centuries. Computer hackers—possibly from an adversarial country—taking down power plants, water systems, the Internet, or private infrastructure. Real cyber warfare could destroy actual machines.
The first technology revolution caused World War I. The second technology revolution caused World War II. This is the third technology revolution.
So could it in fact trigger a Third World War.
As soon as 2025, large parts of the world will experience perennial water shortages, by 2050, the world’s populations will be a third to a half again as large as today. Put rising population and rising incomes together and, experts tell us, by 2050 global food needs will double, with water requirements going up accordingly.
[It takes 2,400 liters to produce a hamburger, common in many middle-income diets, it takes about 40 liters of water to produce a slice of bread, a staple of low-income diets.] On a humanitarian level, the possibilities are devastating.
Climate change requiring a shift in the way we think about the global distribution of resources.
Some will say that technology will help to get us out of the sustainability jam, but it will be nothing more than a quick fix to the vast graveyards of abject inequality created by algorithms for profit.
This is why we must now create a new World Organisation to vet all technology. (See previous posts)
World leaders have a duty to educate people to prevent the pain caused by a rapid rise in automation and artificial intelligence.
Instead we see the transition of Western democracy to oligarchy and the descent into soft fascism is under way. Citizens will need to participate actively, rather than as passive consumers, to demand an end to this cycle of violence from governments and to defend the assault on democratic processes which are already having its foundations rocked by Social Media filtered platforms that have profit as their mantra.
In today’s ultra-globalized and ultra-specialized economy? The level of economic adaptation — even for large countries like Russia and the United States with lots of land and natural resources — required to adapt to a world war would be crushing, and huge numbers of business and livelihoods would be wiped out. War could break out in a number of places, drawing in combatants in unpredictable ways. Combatants very rarely start a global war on purpose; the leaders of the world’s most powerful nations need to be vigilant about the threat of crisis escalation.
The spread of internet technology and social media has brought the world much closer together. Today, people from enemy countries can come together in cyberspace and find out that the “enemy” is not so different.
YouTube and Facebook makes it much more difficult for governments to carry out large-scale military aggression’s, but on the other hand all it took during World War I was one shot. Maybe all it will take for World War III is one line of code.
We shouldn’t scoff at the warnings that something like this could happen one day.
Statesmanship must go beyond diplomacy, in particular to championing new agricultural technologies. Without growing more food with less water (land, too) the water-war surprises will come, perhaps not in one year, perhaps not in four, but soon, and long into the future. Even the big threats—nuclear warfare or an ecological catastrophe, perhaps following from climate change—aren’t existential in the sense that they would wipe us out entirely. And the current bugaboo, in which our electronic progeny exceed us and decide they can live without us, can be avoided by unplugging them.
The new technologies may be self-accelerating, but they are not self-determining. I would say that the odds are good for our survival, providing that AI does not acquire the ability not just to think like us but to self-replicate.
The revolutionary potential of future technologies is to change Homo sapiens itself, including our bodies and our minds, and not merely our vehicles and weapons. The most amazing thing about the future won’t be the spaceships, but the beings flying them.
The truth is that from the standpoint of morality, like many other standpoints, we are hardly adapted to the world in which we live.
Technology will be the result of ever renegotiated agreement with society. Because they are so potent, their paths may undergo wild oscillations, but I think the trend will be toward the dynamic middle: much slower than the optimists expect, much faster than the pessimists think humanity can bear.
However the cold war may be over, but the Doomsday Machine that came out of the confrontation with the Soviets is still with us—and on a hair-trigger.
As global conflicts grow increasingly messy, narratives spun by propagandists and troll factories will wreak havoc via social media, state news organs and even the global free press.
All comments appreciated. All like clicks chucked in the bin.