The King has No Clothes: The Psychological Threat of the Singularity

First we had to realize that we were naked. Then slowly, with bent backs and strain, generational toil wove the garments of our birthright, our dress of self-importance. 

The history of the human race can be viewed as a story of the exponentially increasing power in human hands. From the simplest stone tools to the smartphone, technology has always served to better the power of humans to realize their dreams. In the 20th century, this process reached apogee, with focused ingenuity and effort we literally reached to the moon and connected together the minds of the planet. We were capable of anything.

As a species and as individuals we were assured of our self-importance.

But now times are changing, we stand on the cusp of a new revolution. We are creating artificially intelligent machines that will better realize the needs and the dreams of man. Yes, this will of course serve to extend and continue the chain of betterment, delivering yet more power to the hands of the individual, but I also think an important distinction must be made for we will no longer be realizing our dreams, rather our dreams will be realized for us.

While to some it might seem an overly academic or semantic point, as to whether we realize our dreams or have our dreams realized for us, the psychology of this could not be more important. It is the difference between the self-made man (or woman) and the lottery winner.

On one hand we have the achiever, at his heart he is a rational actor imparting himself upon the world. His life reinforces the view that our actions have merit, and that our decisions matter. He is why we believe that hard work can makes success, and that we have the power to control our own lives.

On the other hand, we have dumb luck; the lottery winner, the born-rich, the untethered. His life reminds us of the happenstance of the universe and us mere victims of the fortune or misfortune that should happen to float our way. It is a sad fact that this kind of good luck offers little happiness to those who receive it, people thrive on earned success not that which is given out too easily. We need to struggle for our victories.

While our world has always found itself balanced somewhere in between these two extreme philosophies, I wonder whether the future might tip us disastrously towards the psychology of the lottery winner. If and when we live in a world wherein everything that we have ever dreamed is made possible by the power of artificial intelligence, will it also destroy our will to want anything?

How can human beings hope to retain their robes of self-importance, in a world wherein their accomplishment means little in the face of ever smarter, ever-more powerful artificial life. Our self-assuredness is based entirely on a view that we are of value to the world, that we can change it. The singularity threatens to collapse this view entirely, leaving us as cold and exposed as we ever were. 

Humans need to believe that the king has clothes, without struggle and success we have nothing left.  

Taken from a different angle, the question is this: What happens to human will as struggle dries up? What do we have to offer to a dream world of digital efficiency? 

Ultimately, it seems to me that humans are so hopelessly addicted to conflict that any world we create will require a certain dose of synthetic strife. We will seek to recreate both our happiness and our sorrows. If we cannot even envision a story which does not involve conflict, how can we hope to live in a world without it? 

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I just want to point out that The Matrix was a great movie. Also this speech by Alan Watts is quite relevant. 

Thought infection is still looking for its first guest poster. If you have an interest in futurism and you would like to try your hand at writing for a growing blog, send me an email at thought.infected@gmail.com

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2 thoughts on “The King has No Clothes: The Psychological Threat of the Singularity

  1. This is why I love games so much. In honest competition where there is nothing at stake but victory or defeat, all you can do is fight with every fiber of your being.

    I believe that true strength comes from the entirety of one’s being. In order to win against the strongest opponents, you have to show them all of who you are. And when both competitors do this, they’ve revealed their souls to each other.

    It’s not about strife or earning anything, not to me. Ultimately, the human need for strife is about connecting with others. It’s showing them who you are completely, and seeing them in turn. This is how the human race forms the strongest bonds.

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