Bot Dreams

Artificial Intelligence and Transhumanism’s Delusions of Grandeur

Joe Allen, a member of our Salvo blog team, keeps an eye on current events related to tech and especially to transhumanism. Broadly, transhumanists envision a future world where the human condition is improved because humans and machines have merged and thus evolved to a more advanced state of existence. The transhumanist endeavor is not simply a matter of how humans may use technology to our benefit by performing functions for us in the way that, say, pacemakers or insulin pumps perform functions. No, transhumanists are about combining humans with machines to move evolution forward. You could say transhumanists want to bring to real life those things which now exist only in science fiction. It’s a quasi-religious movement, but with no God apart from man as god.

Steve Bannon had Joe on his show recently to talk about some things going on inside Google. First, they talked about an article at City Journal called “Don’t Be Evil” (“Don’t Be Evil” used to be Google’s corporate motto until 2015, when Google dropped it). In “Don’t Be Evil,” Christopher Rufo reported on a trove of whistleblower documents from inside Google exposing the racist, Critical Race Theory (CRT)-based “antiracist training” to which Google is subjecting its employees. (If you think you’re not racist, then according to CRT, that in itself constitutes evidence that you are. You can read more about the Google leaked docs here.

Then, Joe went on to point out some things about Google that we should be paying attention to. CRT is based on the axiomatic premise that white people in America possess power and people of color don’t, and CRT training usually includes some form of having participants rank themselves according to their power and privilege. But Joe pointed out that Google itself, along with the other Big Tech giants, possess enormous power. They not only dominate the flow of information, controlling to a great extent who sees what, but they collect massive amounts of information. What do they do with all that information?

You can watch Joe Allen's broadcast below:

In 2009, Google launched Singularity University and seated at its helm transhumanist Ray Kurzweil. Kurzweil has predicted that artificial intelligence (AI) will outstrip humans by mid-twenty-first century and thus usher in a new era of civilization. In 2014, Google purchased the AI company, DeepMind. DeepMind describes itself as “a team of scientists, engineers, ethicists and more, committed to solving intelligence, to advance science and benefit humanity.” So, among its many endeavors, Google is investing heavily in AI.

What is AI?

When I started college in the 1980s, computer science was a relatively new field of study for undergrads. I had to take a class in assembly language, which is one step removed from machine code. It was the worst of all abominable classes in my 20-year-old opinion, but if anything will give you an education in how computers work, assembly language coding will do it. Anyone who knows how computers operate knows that they are not intelligent. Computers are machines that take in, store, process, and spit out data. Only humans possess intelligence. The computers are powerful, but they are nothing more than machines designed to do what humans program them to do.

At the risk of oversimplifying it, then, AI consists of computers programs that take in large amounts of data, look for patterns in the data, and then make predictions based on the patterns. The inputted data is always historical data because you cannot pull data from the future.

This reminds me of a documentary I watched recently called Money Bots. “Money bots” is the term they used to describe machines doing automated buying and selling of securities in financial markets. As technologies advanced, programmers figured out ways to write code that would rapidly execute trades, and the film traces the processes by which high frequency trading by machines replaced humans on the trading floors. Here’s the description from the film’s website:

"Time is Money. In high frequency trading the fastest data network makes the deal. Computers trade against computers solely committed to the logic of their algorithms. Essentially, they are warring bots – money bots."

An algorithm is a computer program, and behind every program is an intelligent programmer writing the instructions that will become the program. It didn’t take long for some of them to find ways to circumvent SEC and other governing bodies’ regulations:

In the beginning, the intention was to use greater predictability and faster infrastructure to increase the stability of financial markets. In fact, the opposite has occurred: automation has made them more vulnerable. Moneybots love instability, where the greatest profits are to be made, and high-frequency trading is damaging the real economy. When trades take place in milliseconds, traders in the real economy are kept out of the loop. The system often relies on the discovery and exploitation of ‘cheats’ to get around restrictions.

“Cheats” and hackers are potential human corrupting influences, but there’s another problem that’s traceable to the automation itself, apart from human operators. The programs are designed to optimize for speed, and high-speed trading exacerbates market volatility. This is why markets can now swing drastically, almost at the speed of light. Just the slightest incident – a fabricated report, a tweet, even a typo – can trigger the bots and set off a veritable digital stampede (what used to be called a “run on the market”). The net result is instability and market valuations less prone to reflect the true values of the underlying securities.

While high frequency trading isn’t exactly the same thing as AI, Money Bots follows several interweaving threads that show the effect of automation replacing human actions. One of them is the story of Haim Bodek, an early electronic trading strategist who became an SEC whistleblower. Here’s what he had to say about the effect of automated trading on him personally:

"I will say that after a long period in the business, it did start to corrupt me. And the whistleblowing was an amazing experience because I didn’t think I had been corrupted by the business."

Here is his summation of what happened with respect to the markets:

When I got into this business, I thought the whole point was to replace the old boys club. To get rid of it. And what I learned after twenty years is that what we ended up doing is that we automated the old boys club. It’s alive, it’s thriving. It’s in the algos [algorithms, i.e., the programs].

In other words, the machines did what the people programmed them to do, only they did it faster and on a larger scale.

Returning to Google and the grand dreams of AI improving the human condition, Kurzweil is right in that the machines outstrip humans in their power to process large amounts of data. But he is wrong about this ushering in a new era of civilization. At least not a necessarily improved one.

 is Deputy Editor of Salvo and writes on apologetics and matters of faith.

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