The year of ‘does this serve us’ and the rejection of reification

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2024 has arrived, and with it, a renewed curiosity in synthetic intelligence, which looks as if it’ll in all probability proceed to get pleasure from at the very least middling hype all year long. In fact, it’s being cheerled by techno-zealot billionaires and the flunkies bunked inside their cosy islands of affect, primarily in Silicon Valley – and derided by fabulists who stand to achieve from portray the still-fictional synthetic basic intelligence (AGI) as humanity’s ur-bogeyman for the ages.

Each of those positions are exaggerated and untenable, e/acc vs. decel arguments be damned. Pace with out warning solely ever leads to compounding issues that proponents usually recommend are best-solved by pouring on extra velocity, presumably in a unique route, to reach at some idealized future state the place the issues of the previous are obviated by the tremendous highly effective Subsequent Large Factor of the longer term; calls to desert or regress complete areas of innovation in the meantime ignore the complexity of a globalized world the place cats typically cannot be put again into packing containers universally, amongst many, many different points with that form of method.

The lengthy, thrilling and tumultuous historical past of know-how growth, significantly within the age of the non-public pc and the web, has proven us that in our fervor for one thing new, we regularly neglect to cease and ask ‘however is the brand new factor additionally one thing we wish or want.’ We by no means stopped to ask that query with issues like Fb, they usually ended up turning into an inextricable a part of the material of society, an eminently manipulable however likewise important a part of crafting and sharing in group dialog.

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Right here’s the principle takeaway from the rise of social media that we should always carry with us into the arrival of the age of AI: Simply because one thing is simpler or extra handy doesn’t make it preferable — and even fascinating.

LLM-based so-called ‘AI’ has already infiltrated our lives in methods that can seemingly show unattainable to wind again, even when we wished to do such a factor, however that doesn’t imply now we have to indulge within the escalation some see as inevitable, whereby we relentlessly rip out human equivalents of a number of the gigs that AI is already good at, or reveals promise in, to make means for the mandatory ‘ahead march of progress.’

The oft-repeated counter to fears that elevated automation or handing menial work over to AI brokers is that it’ll all the time go away individuals extra time to concentrate on ‘high quality’ work, as if dropping a few hours per day spent on filling in Excel spreadsheets will go away the workplace admin who was doing that work lastly free to compose the nice symphony they’ve had locked away inside them, or to permit the entry-level graphic designer who had been color-correcting pictures the freedom to create an enduring treatment for COVID.

In the long run, automating menial work may look good on paper, and it may additionally serve the highest executives and deep-pocketed equity-holders behind a corporation by way of improved effectivity and decreased prices, however it doesn’t serve the individuals who may really get pleasure from doing that work, or who at the very least don’t thoughts it as a part of the general combine that makes up a piece life balanced between extra mentally taxing and rewarding inventive/strategic workouts and day-to-day low-intensity duties. And the long-term consequence of getting fewer individuals doing this sort of work is that you simply’ll have fewer total who’re capable of take part meaningfully within the financial system — which is finally unhealthy even for these rarified few sitting on the high of the pyramid who reap the quick rewards of AI’s effectivity good points.

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Utopian technologist zeal all the time fails to acknowledge that the majority of humanity (techno-zealots included) are generally lazy, messy, disorganized, inefficient, error-prone and largely glad with the achievement of consolation and the avoidance of boredom or hurt. That may not sound all that aspirational to some, however I say it with a celebratory fervor, since for me all these human qualities are simply as laudable as much less attainable ones like drive, ambition, wealth and success.

I’m not arguing towards halting and even slowing the event of promising new know-how, together with LLM-based generative AI. And to be clear, the place the results are clearly helpful — e.g., growing medical picture analysis tech that far exceeds the accuracy of educated human reviewers, or growing self-driving automotive know-how that may really drastically cut back the incidence of automotive accidents and lack of human life — there isn’t any cogent argument to be made for turning away from use of mentioned tech.

However in nearly all circumstances the place the advantages are painted as effectivity good points for duties which are removed from life or loss of life, I’d argue it’s price a protracted, exhausting take a look at whether or not we have to trouble within the first place; sure, human time is effective and successful a few of that again is nice, however assuming that’s all the time a internet optimistic ignores the difficult nature of being a human being, and the way we measure and really feel our price. Saving somebody a lot time they now not really feel like they’re contributing meaningfully to society isn’t a boon, regardless of how eloquently you suppose you possibly can argue they need to then use that point to turn into a violin virtuoso or be taught Japanese.

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