The Post-Will, Post-Fate Future

Our wills and fates do so contrary run, that our devices still are overthrown; are thoughts are ours, their ends none our own.
Shakespeare succinctly summed up a fundamental debate about human nature with that quote. It seems that we are predestined to play certain roles in our lives. When we look back at the episodes that define our existence, often we find that patterns seem to emerge from the randomness that permeates our interactions. This is possibly an illusion, but it also refers to something we know to be true, that we make unconscious decisions that subtly and overtly shape our lives.
Every bit of us is being broken down into discrete chunks of data. And all of that data is processed with other data, and constantly refined algorithms comb through all that data to sort and find patterns. It is the avowed goal of the founders of Google, for instance, to create a personal assistant that optimizes all of the minute decisions we make in a day. Less traffic than usual? Your sleep not quite as sound? Sleep in for 10 more minutes before getting up, this will be determined for you.
Now the AI deprives of us will, but it does not exactly exist as fate either. That is, it determines in a mathematical manner the most efficient way to live in our lives at the moment, from moment to moment. It does not determine an overarching theme for our lives. But how will we cope with this new aimlessness?
It seems likely that the majority of people will acquiesce, handing control of their lives over to algorithms and enjoying the placid comfort of decision-less existence. People who rebel will almost certainly be at a disadvantage, both in the comfort of their lives and in their place in society. This is I, Robot and The Matrix in real life. Will AI have to give us the illusion of control in order for us to maintain our emotional equilibrium? But we will know it is a lie. We will all have to find our unique pleasures and goals. Even the realm of art will be penetrated by AI, and a society of artists will be unnecessary, so will self-improvement. So what exists beyond the intellectual? The only thing that we will control or want to control, and the only thing that distinguishes us from an intelligent computer, is our emotions and physicality. Perhaps we will seek to manipulate our emotions, “I wish to feel joy!” Or maybe, due to the imperfections of human psychology, profound sadness. The other is physical pleasure. Drugs and stimulations will be in high demand.

I’m not sure where this leaves us as a species, but once our minds are rendered impotent compared to a computer, all we have left are our bodies and our primitive feelings. Existence, even immortal existence, could be rendered utterly meaningless. That flaw, that has driven humanity so far, to discover meaning, always asking “why?” and “how?” will certainly be our undoing once there is no purpose to answering those questions.

Leave a Reply