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Didem Gurdur

This week I had the chance to listen to a philosophical talk By Edward A. Lee who is the author of Plato and the Nerd – The Creative Partnership of Humans and Technology, a number of textbooks and research monographs, and more than 300 papers and technical reports.

As a researcher who has cited him several times, I enjoyed his talk on the Living Digital Things. I found the ambition to call cyber-physical systems as living things brave and to be honest, this is what I expect from a scientist to be; brave.
I already ordered his latest book and I do not want to comment on the idea before reading the book. Surely, 40-60 minutes talk is not enough to transfer all the content. This post does not intend to discuss the talk anyway. I want to talk about the future instead.

WARNING! There will not be some fortune telling sessions happening here soon, so do not expect answers to what will happen in 2200.

Future was, is and will be an interesting discussion point. People will continue to wonder what is going to happen in coming years and decades. Not only me, we all will come across questions about how the technologies we work with today would affect the future. I am quite aware that these questions are inevitable. Furthermore, people will continue to have thoughts about the future – like any other topic, it is not really a requirement to know before thinking. Some will think that if they know what will happen from today, they can earn some profit out of it and become rich in short time. Some will get scared of the speed that changes people, society, economic systems etc. Some will surely live in an episode of Black Mirror. Some will argue that we are not progressing and the world was better without all these technical stuff around us. Extensive literature exists which discusses these views. At the same time, there are many enthusiastic people, associations, societies that are honestly trying to predict how the future will be. I, however, do not believe that it is possible to predict anything. Although I know how one feels when someone asks about future and I completely understand how tempting it is to try to give an answer, I also find myself remembering two sentences.

One is the Socratic paradox, which is Plato’s account on Socrates, accompanied with the well-known saying “The only thing I know is that I know nothing.” And the other one is, surely, from Einstein where he says “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.”
Basically, what these people are aware of is that they do not know everything, right? That is the reason why, when I come across these future predictions, I change the subject, move to another post/news.

There is no doubt that people know things and some future related thoughts looks very appealing, even possible, but I cannot stop myself to feel that it is just overrated. (It is funny to say that the things that I study and sometimes work on, are overrated but here I am again, I think they are). For example, all the conspiracy theories about the artificial intelligence, robots, machines and so on. I will not even list them. We love humanizing everything and identifying them as enemies right away. It is just too much. And yes, I do not like too much!

Did you ever watch any robotics challenges? I don’t want to be mean but I cannot imagine that robots will be able to kill me. And I am not the strongest person as you can guess. Are there labs that are working on robots to kill people, hell yeah, but will all these intelligent systems such as robots, machines, vehicles join their forces to kill us? Oh me oh my! No, they will never get all of our jobs (we will always have things to do) and no they are not going to erase the human existence from the world (humans are pretty good at doing this anyway, we do not need any help from these machines).

When I read the discussions on how the emerging technologies would affect our lives in the future, for a second, I believe that we are living in that kind of a world where we could be stressed about this. Like we are Bill Gates or Elon Musks who are in need to call the governments to take actions for AI regulations. The truth is, we are just common citizens all over the world who are reading some technology related, news, posts, etc. The truth is we are not even able to make our governments stop wars – if not to stop starting them – to ask for better health systems, to make it illegal to treat people differently due to their race, gender, religion, sexuality or disability. We are the societies who are willingly torturing animals through thousands of different ways just to eat their flesh. We are the people who let cooperations drill oceans for profit just for the possibility to have better cars to drive. We are the ones who destroy nature on a daily basis and do not care about it at all. We are do ones who killed the The Great Barrier Reef, Pinta Giant Tortoises, Western Black Rhinoceros and many more.

I do technology, I study technology, I read technology, I love technology. I understand people who are making a call for control mechanisms for technological changes and I see why people are anxious that these new technologies will make them poorer or less important. But I don’t understand why we think that the world is in a state to place this as the biggest problem we have. Nearly all emerging technology related antagonistic discussions nowadays, including the Facebook privacy scandal, points out that the problem is not about the technology. To me, the problem is not using the technology enough for good. Do you remember that I said I am expecting scientist/researchers to be brave? Brave to say things that the society is not ready to hear. Yes, to call non-living systems as living systems and reclaiming what living means but also brave to act on issues related to the living. To make the long story short, the robots will be around us, yes (they are already here), there will be intelligent systems all around us (like we have them today), things will get more automated and autonomous (like we use them today, knowingly or unknowingly), they will change the world understanding that we have today, and shape how we learn, teach and live. Furthermore, they are the only hope, in my opinion, to make this place better. So, instead of getting defensive and trying to paint dark future scenarios, we should concentrate on how we can use these opportunities to end wars, to distribute the wealth more fairly, to put democracy to work and to change the world for the better.

P.S. These are my thoughts for this weekend. If they happen to change or diverse to something else, I will update this post. In case, the super ultra mega AI rules the world and lead to gigadeath, you will have more important things to consider than my little blog post, anyways.