“Technological optimism means to practice the ability to recognize bad surprises early enough to do something about them.’

Edward Tenner


Last week I found myself straddling the technology world and, well, the real world as I sat in a living room in “blue collar America’ discussing the fears of AI.

They all see the headlines of pauses and civilization Armageddon driven by AI and what comes to mind is The Terminator and robots with sentient awareness making decisions on their own. So when I brought up superintelligence and singularity all I got were puzzled looks. Why? Well. “I already think the computer is not only superintelligent but certainly more intelligent than I am.” And with that we get a good dose of everyday reality.

Which leads to the problem with all the discussion surrounding AI and superintelligence and whether technology is intelligent at all.

The technological experts and business consultants gnash their teeth and pound upon tables arguing over what is, or isn’t, technology intelligence and whether in the future technology will be smarter than a human being and, yet, if you were to sit with a normal everyday human being – who works typically nine to five – they would say they already believed that the computer is more intelligent than they are. Among the technology elite the Turing test is discussed as supposed to be the measurement for whether a computer or technology can mimic a human being. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that test occurs with some of the most brilliant minds in existence. The non-brilliant ordinarily smart person already admits his or her computer knows more than they do, can think faster than they do, and can come up with better answers than they can. While 100% of the everyday people I was speaking to that day feels that way, if I were a betting man, I would guess maybe 75% of people already feel this way. my point here is that the technology experts are debating over theory while the real world is attempting to reckon with technology that already exists.

Which leads me to fear.

All the technology experts and business consultants who dominate the headlines with everything that we should fear about the future of Technology and the future of AI is their fear based on some future state that may or may not occur. The problem is that state already occurs to the everyday person so the future fear the technology experts speak about only increases the common everyday persons existing fears that an already smart machine is going to not only be smarter still, but will begin running the world. Once again, my point here is that the everyday person’s future state fear is different than the experts future state fear and the dissonance between the two only exacerbates overall fear. Anyway. I would argue that if technology experts wouldn’t constantly talk about fear, the normal everyday smart person would just enjoy the benefits of the existing AI and technology. That doesn’t mean that we should allow people to be blissfully unaware of some of the negative consequences that AI can apply to a society. But it does suggest rather than encouraging fear we should just be encouraging awareness of the subtle manipulations and encouraging curiosity and exploration of the learning benefits technology offers. Should we be concerned about deepfakes? Sure. Should we be more aware of how algorithms feed confirmation bias? Absolutely. But ChatGPT is not going to destroy humanity <as Grady Booch says an LLM is architecturally incapable of reasoning> and both of the questions I just asked circle around human responses, not technology stimulus. Generally speaking, technology prompts, or should prompt, us to think just a little bit harder, explore just a little bit more and question with sincerity. I would argue that actually doesn’t destroy civilizations and societies, but enlightens them.

Which leads me back to what I always say: technology is nothing without humans.

The moment we turn it off or tune it out, technology has no effect on us. When two people sit in a café and talk it is between humans, not technology. The meeting rooms where people gather and debate and discuss things is between humans, not technology. My point here is that when we do choose to turn it on, and tune in, technology is simply a tool to either learn, not learn, share or gather information and knowledge. It is a distributor of the best and worst of humans – together or within each of us individually. It is, as Jaron Lanier has stated a number of times, a social connection tool. Nothing more, nothing less. I imagine if we were to fear anything it would be to fear that we are not good enough, smart enough, aware enough, to manage the tool we have been provided. But that means we shouldn’t fear the tool, but rather the user. Ponder.

Written by Bruce