“The evil does not lie in the technological powers themselves but in the uses to which man puts them and in the fact that he has allowed them to overwhelm and enslave him.”
~ Roberto Assagioli
Mainstream science and technology appears to be obsessed with the development of artificial intelligence as well as with robots. For decades, we have been constructing through our imagination in the form of novels, video games, and movies a world where humans live in a world replete with technological innovations which possess an intelligence that matches or even surpasses our own. For those who agree with the understanding that we manifest what we visualize persistently, one can say that we are now beginning to see the results of this sustained visualization en masse.
Do you ever wonder why are we so fascinated by artificial intelligence and robots? What is it that we are pursuing really by pursuing the path of creating an intelligence that can think for itself? Should we not put some serious thoughts into what it is we are doing with this endeavor?
An Expedient Path
Driverless cars, Bloc-Chain, and drones are examples of technology which are already mature enough to be used in a trial phase in various places around the world, or are expected to be rolled out on a much more widespread basis soon. So much of technology are created and sold based on the belief that it can help to do away with or defend against the unpredictable, uncontrollable, unchangeable, as well as imperfect aspects of humanity. Traffic jams and fatal accidents caused by supposed human incompetence and indiscretion might be the issues driverless cars are aiming to prevent; financial scams and exploitations by unethical middlemen are going to be a thing of the past once Bloc-Chain becomes the standard way for individuals and organizations to contract with each other; human lives can be saved in war or space exploration by the use of drone technology. Technology is lauded as the savior of our times with almost equal venerability which is accorded to the One and Only by the devout. Technology is regarded as the solution to human errors, human deceit, and human frailty. Alas, those who place their trust and hope solely in technology have little appreciation for, and faith in, the higher potentialities of humanity which require self-mastery. It is much more expedient to believe in the fairy tale that technology will give us the power which we desire but have not made a priority to develop naturally. It is equally convenient to give our power away to technology designed by corporations who are supposedly smarter than us, and whom we hope are dutifully looking after us. Failing that, we believe the market economy mechanisms and governmental regulations should do the trick, and we put our critical thinking hats high up on the shelves for stepping outside of the bounds of “group think” is tantamount to going against the current. Isn’t going with the flow always better?
We begin to buy into the message and philosophy that undesirable human elements can be and should be done away with selectively. We have a hard time resisting the siren call to magnify our powers and prolong our longevity through technology rather than proper self-development and self-care. We believe in the message that moving forward, whatever “moving forward” means, is more important than everything else. We start to believe in a version of the future which is being sold to us, and see that as the only possible future when there are in fact an infinite number of futures from which we can choose to create. We feel so small and powerless that we relent and outsource the work of dealing with our own imperfections and mortality to the technologists and those who control the technologists.
However, is it really possible to bypass the all-important questions of human misery, imperfection and mortality via technology alone? Can we see that this promise has been made repeatedly in recent human history and see that the end result has never been exactly as promised or predicted? Revolutions in agricultural technology liberated us from backbreaking labor and enabled to us to pursue “better” and more “modern” work, but it also distanced us from nature and put us in a more precarious position by leaving the world to depend on a much smaller population of farmers who are vulnerable to the influences of powerful corporations who do not always have our best interest at heart. Giant leaps made in communication and computer technology have helped us to stay in touch no matter the distance, and be able to be more mobile with our work, but we have also become more like the tools with which we work: mechanical, robotic, and binary. Advances in nutritional, genetic and medical research and technology are supposed to help prolong as well as increase the quality of our lives. Yet, more and more of us suffer from allergies, depression, and cancer at an ever younger age that anyone would suspect. Hunger has not disappeared, and neither has poverty nor war. Democracy, capitalism, weapons of mass destruction, and genetically modified foods have not been able to answer the most important questions by themselves, nor have they been able to solve the human conundrum. Now, we are once again being seduced with the promise that somehow artificial intelligence and robotics are the answers to these questions. I wonder how much more of history will we have to repeat before we realize the answer lies within ourselves and not outside of ourselves. Or, will we ironically begin to embed technology inside our bodies as we see technology as the answer to our questions.
Dealing with Human Evil
We see in small children already the tendency to point the finger: it is the other person who is guilty! Not me! Our tendency to project our own imperfections onto others, matched by an equally undeveloped ability to introspect, can and have led to devastating consequences when it is allowed to be as a central tenet in one’s life philosophy. There is no shortage of demonstrable history, such as World War II or the Christian crusades, where we may learn of those who became the embodiment of evil itself unwittingly by seeing evil as something that is outside of themselves.
All of us can see that the roots of evil are well within. It is not difficult to come to this understanding by paying attention to the dark thoughts and emotions that swirl within us on a daily basis. At any moment in time, we have the opportunity to acknowledge or repress thoughts and feelings that bother us, and decide whether or not to act it out. We may wish we didn’t have certain “bad” thoughts or feelings, but they are there for good reasons. Repressing them is not only a short-term solution, it makes them stronger. If the field of psychology has learned nothing else in the past one hundred years, it has at least learned that active engagement with one’s inner thoughts and feelings are more sustainable for one’s mental health than repression.
Good and evil exist within us. It simply is the case. Our work is to learn to work with this conundrum, not to make it go away. How we acknowledge and give expression to the dark impulses within are the keys to dealing with evil, for we either become the instrument of evil or we can have it serve us for our good. False hopes of being able to make evil go away through any means, especially technology, is a self-deluding as well as self-destructing proposition.
Man and His Creations
If man is a reflection of his maker as the Bible teaches, then the things man makes are a reflection of man himself. As we are complex, we create things which reflect the different aspects of ourselves. We create killing machines such as guns and bombs, but we also create beauty through art and music. We have the impulse to destroy as well as the instinct to create. The redeeming value of man’s creation depends upon the intention of the creator himself as much as it does on the subjective intention of the “user” of this invention. A knife can be used for preparing food in the kitchen, or it can be used to perpetrate killings. A plane can be used to transport us to our dream destinations, or it can be used for bombing innocent civilians. Drugs can be used to cure us, or it can be used in high dosages by those who want to commit suicide. As always, man’s intention is one of the most important elements, though not the only one, in helping good to come about.
Finally, a man only has power over his lower nature, and therefore his less honorable intentions, when he has learned to master his desires, thoughts and feelings. Relying on anyone or anything external to oneself for the longterm is giving away one’s power; it truly places one’s fortunes at the mercy of others. In the case of artificial intelligence and robotics, are we to simply rely on the perfection of the design of the infallible scientists, technologists, and capitalists? Are we to place our trust in the infallible “consumers” who can be counted on to use the "technology" appropriately? We all know we are far from perfect, and that any new technology not only takes decades to perfect, such as was the case with cars, airplanes, and computers, it also takes generations for people to become proficient at using the technology. With artificial intelligence and robotics, we will not have the luxury to get things right over a long period of time. If artificial intelligence and robotics are going to be as powerful as its’ protagonists have advertised it to be, there is little chance we will be able to control it, because control and intelligence are on opposing ends. Real intelligence cannot be controlled, period. In other words, if it can be controlled, it is not real intelligence. So we are either going for real intelligence which we will not be able to control and which will in all likelihood be much smarter than us (as Sam Harris has referred to in his TED talk), and with whom we will have no idea how things will turn out. Or, we can go for controllable intelligence, which will have some benefits for our lives, but not to the extent as has been advertised. Either way, our lives will become much more complicated as technology has always promised complexity along with whatever simplicity it can muster to produce in our lives. Who wants more complexity when we can barely manage what we have got now?
About Change & the Age Old Questions
An unemotional examination of the history of humanity and of life teaches us that tremendous good is always paired with tremendous bad in paradigm shifts. In fact, tremendous good often follows tremendous bad in such situations. Chaos is the mother of creation, and it is what takes place before the dust settles. The creation of the universe is case in point. Leaps in evolution happened when life was mostly wiped off of the face of the planet. Real change are never comfortable or effortless. Humanity needs change, of this we are sure. The question is, are we precipitating change in a way where we are in charge rather than being on the receiving end of change where we are to either do or die? If artificial intelligence and robotics are going to be able to deliver the advertised benefits which I believe we will be sold on, then we can expect an upheaval to our way of life where we will be forced to adapt or die.
In wading into the current debate of whether or not artificial intelligence and robotics will be good or disastrous for humanity, I believe we must shape our questions better for the public. Ultimately we do have the power to decide what our future will be if we care to exercise that power rather than meekly accept being told what kind of future is inevitable. I do believe the questions that technologists are striving to address with artificial intelligence are valuable ones, even if they are only addressing these questions from a purely secular and scientific angle. The questions are, in my view, the age old questions of human perfectibility and meaningful existence, such as "how do we overcome our own shortcomings and become the all powerful being we know we are?" and "how can we live peacefully and prosperously side-by-side with our brothers, sisters, and animal friends?"
The thing is, a purely secular and scientific approach to these questions are incomplete and unlikely to generate the needed transformation in a manner that is balanced and harmonious with the way Life works. For all of the new and daunting challenges we face today, we are in fact dealing with the same old challenges which have been around since human existence: can we find a way to work together rather than against each other? There are answers which are not yet completely proven within the framework of science and will probably never be scalable from the point of view of industrialization, but which have been understood and communicated by many over the expanse of time. Wisdom about how to find love, joy, oneness, and inner peace have already offered to us by men and women from all walks of life and from all four corners of the world.
In the end, the power to be the master of our desires, our thoughts, and emotions is an inner power we must train. There is no way around it. For if we circumvent the path of self-development, we will inevitably find ourselves face-to-face with our worst nightmare no matter what other paths we choose. As we began the article with a quote from Roberto Assagioli, let us end the article with another quote from this wise man.