Artificial intelligence: old new fears

A few days ago, all the media on the planet revealed what —once again— filled the masses with horror: great thinkers and businessmen: Yuval Noah Harari (the author of Sapiens), Steve Wozniak (the creator of Apple with Jobs), Elon Musk (you don’t have to explain who it is) they cried out to the governments of the world and who would want to listen to them: “stop, stop, Artificial Intelligence is coming and it will make us chas chas!”

You’re right? Do we have anything to fear? Is it the end of Humanity or —on the contrary— are we being more human than ever, following one of our most traditional traditions?: distrusting the new, hitting it with a stick until it doesn’t move and discovering later that no, that nothing happens. Nothing to look at, get on with it

The Anglo-Saxon world is very good at creating words. One of them is “Neo-Luddite”. The term comes from a movement of English artisans who between 1811 and 1816 protested against the machines of the Industrial Revolution, especially in the textile sector. The Luddites, led by one ned ludd (even today it is disputed whether it was a real person) were dedicated to sabotaging the spinning machines, maintaining that the technology threatened their jobs. Sounds familiar?

The human race has a long history of being afraid of new technologies. And this fear is generally expressed through myths, traditions and stories that embody fear. Let’s do a quick run through of “it got out of hand” stories.

Pygmalion. myhe sculptor makes a statue of what he chose for a perfect woman. She falls in love with the statue (named Galatea) and the goddess Aphrodite transforms her into a real woman. Galatea and Pygmalion are happy.

The Golem of Prague. In the 16th century, Rabbi Judah Loew, known as the Maharal of Prague, creates a golem, a clay creature moved by the grace of God, to defend the Prague ghetto from anti-Semitic attacks. The rabbi’s wife asked the golem to go “to the river to draw water” to which the golem agreed, but to the letter: he went to the river, and began to draw water without stopping, until it ended up flooding the city . The golem was “activated” by writing on its forehead the word Emet (אמת—”truth” in Hebrew) and it could only be deactivated by deleting the first letter, leaving met (מת—”dead” in Hebrew) written. Ready: golem unplugged.

Frankenstein’s monster. Mary Shelley takes electricity, the state-of-the-art technology of her time, which together with the discovery of galvanic current (the one that makes the frog’s legs move after the frog died) is applied in a story where aa Through science, a living being is created that, in the long run, turns against its creator.

2001 A Space Odyssey. it was all joy on the way to Jupiter, until HAL 9000, the official intelligence aboard Discovery One, goes mad and decides to kill the astronauts. It can only be stopped by deactivating its “memory banks”, but that is not easy.

Terminator. It was all a party, until we humans created an artificial intelligence, for some reason we gave it control of the world’s nuclear arsenals, and the artificial intelligence decides we’re overdone. From then on we are at war against robots and derivatives. Only Arnold can save us.

Matrix. Here too the machines have gone bad and in the future, we use batteries to generate electricity. Keanu Reeves saves us.

Let us now add fears that are also repeated with the advent of new technologies: when the radio appeared, it was feared that “magnetic waves” would generate madness and kill the birds. Electric light was distrusted because it was feared that it would cause light sleep and poor rest. My parents chased me away from the TV because “cathode rays” were bad for my eyes (I wear glasses, but I’m sure it’s for another reason). And so we can continue.

In all the stories we name, the “plot twist” is always the same: creation turns against it. It is the concept of agency, the fear that —for some reason— the vacuum cleaner will decide that it does not want to vacuum anymore and hang us with the hose, that our computer will develop a will and decide to delete my files or —as is preferred lately— that Intelligence as artificial ChatGPT, halfway either Dall-Edecide for some reason, to turn against the human race.

In all cases, what prevails is a narcissistic injury: small human egos that put up with computers playing chess better than us or adding faster, but not writing a text, drawing or composing music.

perspective. At heart, we are primates in a cave looking at the fire that one of the bravest and most brainy members of our clan was able to carry into the cave. One of us got burned, but at the same time the cold left us and we can see where it was dark before. EITHEROther clansmen argue that we must put out those flames until we clearly understand what it is. (we would not do it until the eighteenth century). And while we look at the fire, that look will create steam engines and will travel to the moon, will make atomic bombs and cure polio.

When we look at the fire, that fire also looks at us. The same goes for Artificial Intelligence. as the teacher said Melvin Kranzbergfounder of the Society for the History of Technology: “technology is neither good nor bad, but neither is it neutral”.

What will be of the future, depends on humans.

As usual.

# J. Ramiro Fernández Varela is co-founder of Youniversal.

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