The Next Turning of AI

Subhash Kak
May 23, 2018 · 3 min read

Opinion remains divided on whether machines will ever become conscious like us, but in many ways AI is already influencing human affairs in fundamental ways.

This is because a paradox characterizes human consciousness. At the core of our being we might be free but this freedom is circumscribed and dominated by language and the abstractions that come with it. Language sets us apart from animals, but it also throws a blanket on our elemental apprehensions, making us willing to be literally enslaved by stories and ideas. As AI advances both in its capacity to use language and other conceptual schema, this power will be used to further dictate individuals and groups.

The recent debate on both sides of the Atlantic regarding “fake news” is a matter of point. In a world where most information is spread by social media, who decides what is true and what is false? But in a curious way the controversy about “fake news” is nothing new because groups in all ages have strived to control information and spread false rumors about their opponents. In recent centuries in the West, powerful institutions have devised mechanisms to curate news to exercise political control and dominate ideas. Now AI will be a weapon in propaganda wars.

AI means procedures that implement function in uncertain environment with software or in embodied machines. Yet what’s past is prologue for bureaucracies also implement procedures and they have done so for thousands of years.

Just as groups have demanded that people have faith in religious and political myths, humans will be asked to have faith in myths related to the fairness and power of AI algorithms. Mirroring how totalitarian and religious regimes forbid certain thoughts, AI will be harnessed to turn some ideas disreputable.

The workings of the medical-pharma complex are a presentiment of things to come. There are reports that a vast majority of scientific reports cannot be replicated. The situation is most acute in biomedical fields:

Something is rotten in the state of biomedical research. Everyone who works in the field knows this on some level. We applaud presentations by colleagues at conferences, hoping that they will extend the same courtesy to us, but we know in our hearts that the majority or even the vast majority of our research claims are false.

When it came to light that the biotechnology firm Amgen tried to reproduce 53 “landmark” cancer studies and managed to confirm only six, scientists were “shocked.”

We trust the advice our doctor gives us about chronic illnesses although we know the guidelines from national medical associations tend to change with time.

It is human nature to put faith in someone else and to believe stories that we hear, even when they make no sense. Remember Tertullian’s famous phrase Credo quia absurdum, “I believe because it is absurd”.

It is not surprising that Theresa May is announcing a new initiative to “prevent 22,000 cancer deaths by the use of AI.” There is a technology imperative in this because the UK does not wish to be left behind in the race for AI. The new AI-based procedures will help some patients, but they will mostly enmesh individuals into drug dependency with no real benefits.

Education and media will be battlegrounds for thought control. George Orwell said: “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” History will be rewritten just as the British used it to turn Indians against their own heritage and did it so well that Indians did not — and mostly do not — know that this is what happened.

The most devastating effect of the next turning of AI will not be the wholescale loss of jobs; it will be the control of human minds that turns them into machine-clones.

Subhash Kak

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