Humanity’s Last Stand
The Challenge of Artificial Intelligence, a Spiritual-Scientific Response
By Nicanor Perlas
Reviewed by Lois Scoft
If the prospect of AI (Artificial Intelligence), AGI (Artificial General Intelligence) and/or ASI (Artificial Super Intelligence) interest you at all, you need to read this book to see where mankind is headed, and how quickly. Opinions on fruition-timing from those in the top of their fields vary from between the years 2020 and 2030. It is up to us non-experts to stand up, raise our voices and say: “Wait, will these robots have human traits such as caring, love for humanity, or courage in the face of danger? What about culture—truth, beauty and goodness?”
Before it is too late, Nicanor Perlas, Philipino activist, author, speaker and alternate Nobel Prize Laureate, is calling for what he names the Global Civil Society to ask the difficult questions about where technology is pushing us. Is it to extinction, or is there a saving grace to counteract the amalgamation with machine intelligence that humanity is now facing? Perlas is looking for hopeful signs such as GCS converging again in events like the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and the later virtually complete dismantling of the World Trade Organization (WTO) that was designed to repeal 25 years of carefully crafted worker and environmental protections.
Perlas draws the reader’s attention to Paul Hawken’s book, Global Unrest, to show what remarkable results civil society activism can attain, as well as to when, where and how in future we can again unite our efforts to protect humanity—this time from technology.
Dramatic instances that make the future risk palpably clear are 1. digital teachers (removing humans from the classroom), 2. Saudi Arabia’s granting citizenship to its “Sophia” robot, 3. a one-minute voice sample to impersonate anyone, anytime and anyplace, such as the fake Barack Obama upload onto YouTube, 4. a robot passing the bar exam and another graduating from medical school. These last realities point to the economic threat of job losses in many fields. Enhanced stages involve machine intelligence beginning to think and act for itself, in the interest of its own self-preservation. Thus the problem of whose will is going to be executed and followed in the predicted world.
This crisis is what Rudolf Steiner, warned us about—the incarnation of a spiritual being named Ahriman (Zoroastrian diety of evil) due for us in the 21st century. Steiner (1861-1925) is often referred to by Owen Barfield, as a “must read” (Saving the Appearances), as well as by Saul Bellow, (Humboldt’s Gift).
Four promised temptations that arise from algorithms are: promises of super health, super intelligence, super robotic strength, and material immortality. Perlas admits that our future involves a stage during which we must unite with machines and be tempted by them, but we must limit them in such a way that machines function only as enhanced senses.
INITIATE! This is the call the author prescribes at the end of the book, meaning that if we see the danger and are willing to work against it, we must go into action in whatever way we are capable—to raise a red flag against impending doom.
Further reading: The New Yorker: How Frightened Should we be of AI /Harvard Review: Artificial Intelligence and Ethics/MIT Technology Review: Giving algorithms a sense of uncertainty could make them more ethical.
Ed. Note: Lois Schroff is an award-winning watercolor painter. Her work has been published in several magazines and periodicals, including the centerfold of Being Human, the quarterly magazine of the Anthroposophical Society of America. Lois has published magazine articles, four arts-related books, as well as a DVD, on a technique in watercolor painting recommended by Dr. Rudolf Steiner, the German philosopher. One can view her work on lakechapalapaintingguild.org and on escapetoajijic.com.