It’s probably as impossible for me to explain to you young’uns what it was like to talk or think about computers in the seventies, as it is to explain what it was like growing up during the cold war “waiting for the hammer to fall.” (Or how convinced everyone was that the communists would win because they were more efficient.)
I grew up reading stuff like Martin Cadin’s God Machine, and RUR’s robots, so of course I knew that machines could achieve full consciousness and rule us all.
It wasn’t till computers started being bought by private companies in Portugal in the seventies, and the excuse “it was a computer error” came in, that my brother (an electrical engineer) pulled me aside and explained how insane this all was.
But people my age and older than I fail to get it, still. I was jaw-dropped when one of the luminaries of science fiction, on a panel, said we should have kids raised by robots to eliminate bias in their upbringing. There walks someone who has never heard of Garbage In, Garbage out. The bias would be baked in.
Some — many — of the younger people fail to get it too, aided along by the insane depictions of AI in movies and media, and expect computers/robots to be our saviors, to bring about that famed post-scarcity society.
Others think that machines will run people out of their jobs in droves, and we must therefore stop the machines before they make humans obsolete.
In regard to machines, particularly “thinking” ones (they’re not. Actually “thinking” still eludes us. What we have is a very sophisticated version of arranging virtual gears and things) I like to misquote Shakespeare “neither a Luddite nor a credulous acolyte be.”
Sure, computers will become more sophisticated and better, in the next 100 years or so. There might be a limit, sure, but we’re clever monkeys, and always get around those.
Will they ever be truly sentient, or define themselves as opposed to us? I kind of doubt it. Heck, some people doubt WE are sentient. But even if they did, they’d be our “children” i.e. human in all but externals. Because they would be built like us, who else would they reflect? So they’d be about as troublesome as humans always are to each other. Rule us? Maybe. But how much worse could they be than what we’ve done to ourselves in the past?
Then there’s the dream of the pure “planning” and “thinking” machine, which was part of the attraction of communism. The dream shall always be with us, and always unattainable. Not only would the machines be in our image and semblance, but who can believe planning everything and ruling over chaotic humans would create a better society? Ultimately planned societies/economies, MIGHT work great for some alien, but I’d trust our chaotic nature and the improvisational smarts of the cleaver and tinkering monkeys we are against all the planning in the universe.
As for running humans out of jobs, bah. Humans are really good at inventing new jobs for themselves, which is why almost no one these days does our original jobs of hunting and gathering.
For the same reason there will never be post-scarcity. Why? Because we’re better at inventing new “needs.” Get sent to the middle ages — or my childhood in the sixties — and you’ll find out how many things you “need” don’t exist.
By medieval terms we’re already post-scarcity. You notice any of us lying down and letting the grapes fall in our mouths? (well, some. Even our welfare recipients live better than medieval man, but that’s a talk for another day.)
And this is good, because humans are also striving monkeys. We were born for strife, and without it we wither and corrupt. Which is why “no demands” charity destroys people.
So, be not afraid of the machines, but use them as we use a ladder: to reach somewhere we couldn’t get before, and learn new and interesting things, and discover even more, bigger and more confusing problems.
Here’s to humans. The chaotic rebels they are. May they always be so.