January 6 2018 First Sunday Monthly Service on THE FUTURE: PROMISE OR THREAT?

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January 6 2018 First Sunday Monthly Service on THE FUTURE: PROMISE OR THREAT?

Post by tim »

Our January service was on PROPHECY (definitely a religious subject, right?) - that we called THE FUTURE: PROMISE OR THREAT? We viewed a couple of videos on what was expected to be in the news in 2019 including:

Powered-clothing … probably not, but the company making it is working hard to make itself look like “the future.”

Flying cars out of which a helicopter prop sprouts … maybe for all the people who have pilots' licenses … if the FAA allows it … and air-traffic controllers can manage it.

Cheaper air travel as several large national airports open up and battle for market share.

The 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci on May 2nd of this year is expected to throw some welcome attention on his ideas, writings, art, and many inventions. Da Vinci exemplified the polymath or Renaissance Individual of unbridled curiosity and wide-ranging imagination. We ought to look forward to some attention being paid to this person and the ideals he represents.

In addition, 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing and we can expect to see that in the news and public discussion as well. And as of January 2nd, a lunar lander and rover have been on the far side of the moon, sent by China. That nation is now poised to supplant – if it has not already supplanted; certainly it has in the manufacturing industry – the USA as the preeminent nation of the earth.

Self-driving vehicles … which really is “a thing” and is likely to profoundly affect most people in one way or another and probably cause those who drive vehicles for a living to have to retrain for new jobs. Self-driving vehicles also raise many questions of how this will be implemented. Fortunately, the regulation of driving by licensure should allow time for some sort of public policy debate and consideration and the realization that, currently, we do not ask drivers to disclose their ethical approach to, say, whether to swerve off the road and possibly kill themselves in order to avoid mowing down dozens of school children or not. But the choice that an AI may make in such a situation is now beginning to come under scrutiny.

And this is the general theme of AI in practice. There seems little realistic fear that AI will “take over the world.” But it is already causing us to question our own intelligence and ways of making sense of things. It is showing us ways of solving problems that we had not thought of before so that we can improve our own problem-solving skills. Self-driving cars also promise to remove some of the drudgery from our lives. What a joy it would be to have an AI-driven car take us home when we are tired or otherwise unable to drive safely. On the other hand, driving a car may remain something that people will continue to do for entertainment at times, just as cars have not supplanted horseback-riding altogether.

We mulled over the remark of Elon Musk who said, of AI, that “It could be terrible, and it could be great. It’s not clear. One thing is for sure: We will not control it.” But we then recalled to mind that something of the same kind could be said of every child born.

And we also considered the fact that “free will,” the idea that the matter in our brains and bodies may behave in ways independent of physical laws – quantum mechanical or other – is, of course, nonsense. But if we humans do not have “free will” such that machines could “figure us out” and “outsmart us,” then AI would certainly be subject to the same constraints. That is, AI will also behave in ways that are as predictable as we are, if not more so, because the functioning of the human brain may be even more error-prone than electronics.

Of course, with respect to AI there may also be a “middle way.” That is, AI might be applied to augment human cognition just as many other mechanical aids do. We already become, in a way, cyborgs when we get into and take control of motorized vehicles. We do so by manipulating steering wheels and floor pedals. But in principle we could do so with direct neural links and, conceivably, could get sensory input/feedback directly into our brains. It is perhaps no coincidence that Elon Musk is a founder of the Neuralink company which promises to develop neural-machine links.

This subject led naturally to another “disruptive technology” of biotechnology and genetic engineering including recent reports of human embryos being genetically modified with the CRISPR technology and then grown into babies.

We touched on a few other related and unrelated subjects as well. The point being, these are all things that relate critically to the human condition and can and should be explored and thought about. Yet the traditional religions based on Bronze Age, 1st Century and Medieval texts are simply not up to the job and do – and can do – little more than either stand by dumbly or shout “No! No!”

Post your ideas or comments on these things below!
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