By Victoria N. Alexander
And We Need To Be Hacked For Our Own Good.
“Liberalism tells us that the voter knows best, that the customer is always right, and that we should think for ourselves and follow our hearts. Unfortunately, ‘free will’ isn’t a scientific reality. It is a myth inherited from Christian theology. Theologians developed the idea of ‘free will’ to explain why God is right to punish sinners for their bad choices and reward saints for their good choices.” – Yuval Noah Harari
Although World Economic Forum (WEF) transhumanists may not have a unified ideology per se, we may look to Yuval Noah Harari, a WEF member who is a prolific writer and voluble frontman, to get a general sense of the assumptions held by that coterie of financial elites who think they can alter the course of human civilization, human evolution, and re-codify human rights. While their grandiose narcissism verges on the cartoonish-ness of the comic book villain seeking world domination, we must, nevertheless, take their words and their plans seriously because their claims to ownership and/or control of monetary systems, communication infrastructure and natural resources do, unfortunately, lend them quite a bit of power over us—at the moment.
Yuval Noah Harari What is the WEF Transhumanist movement? Although their stated objectives are cloaked in tones of benevolent concern, they are more or less open about the fact that they want to trade our self-governed and representative democracies in for AI-managed surveillance systems that will ration resources and keep tabs on individual performances. The proposed tools for this include, Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC), Social Impact Investing, and gamified software for education, health monitoring, welfare recipient monitoring, and job skills training. As Harari argues in an essay in The Guardian, liberal democracy and the belief in free will are “dangerous,” because governments and corporations that have access to everyone’s digital histories will soon “know you better than you know yourself” and they will be able to “hack” you, put ideas in your head, get you to buy bad things and vote for bad people. Without supplying a rationale, he adds, “the easiest people to manipulate will be those who believe in free will.” In contrast, the ones who know they can’t think for themselves, Harari further argues, will be saved by their personalized AI babysitters. In Harari’s future world, there will be no God dangling the carrot or brandishing the stick, but there will be an all-seeing AI that does. What “we need,” he goes on, is “an antivirus for the brain. Your AI sidekick will learn by experience that you have a particular weakness…and would block [it] on your behalf.” The obvious alternative solution, fully protecting privacy and making data collection by governments and corporations illegal without full informed consent, seems not to have occurred to Professor Harari.
From the various promotional videos and speeches made by the WEF, we can gather that an Internet of Things and of Bodies is slated to replace the functions of community and social and political structures. In the future, researchers will develop Brain-Machine-Interfaces (BMI) that will monitor, and eventually help cause, our thoughts and actions as well as diagnose and treat any mental health conditions. We will be ushered into Smart Cities (think luxury Borg condos). While the countryside is left to re-wild (for the pleasure of oligarchs on safari), agriculture will move into laboratories, and we will be fed synthetic chicken, wormburgers and LED-grown medicated lettuce in exchange for doing some kind of work that will probably involve operating mining robots or drones using Virtual Reality (VR) headsets. I wish I were exaggerating for comic effect, but these are the kinds of programs being promoted by the WEF and in Klaus Schwab’s book, The Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Despite the Transhumanists’ claim that they strive to augment human abilities with new technologies, the kinds of hacks they’ve offered so far are mostly negative. It’s relatively easy to maim, disable, block, traumatize, propagandize; it will be a little difficult to figure out how to use a BMI to make us smarter or to read our thoughts so we don’t have to type or speak. As Neuralink’s recent “show and tell” revealed, the company’s progress is so far underwhelming. As human trials near, the infection risk associated with implanting a device into a paraplegic’s brain to help him operate a smart phone does not seem justified to me. Why go through all the trouble (and brain surgery!) to detect brain activity of motor control (e.g. moving the eyes), then to use AI to pick out the signal from the noise, and then turn the signal into clicks on a screen, when the person could more easily operate a computer interface with voice commands?
It may be that the architects of the Transhumanist revolution actually believe that AI-augmented and AI-managed society will be a big improvement, more efficient, more objective, equitable and inclusive, free from the biases and prejudices that plague the human species. But it’s worth noting that these kinds of plans have never turned out well in any of our culture’s science fiction explorations. Perhaps none of the WEF members have ever read Mary Shelley or Orwell and have never seen a Black Mirror episode.
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