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【IFIMES】A future filled with empty choices?

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(Author: Prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic (Entity of the Special Consultative status with the UN / Executive Assistant to HoM))

 

編輯摘要/ 香港國際問題研究所研究員陳子謙

回顧人類歷史,即使知識與資訊傳送的速度稱不上快,然而一直都領先於主要社會發展。而當社會發展有著偶爾發生的突破時,這就代表著人類發展史的一個重要轉捩點,就如當各個文明開始在農業技術、軍事政治、宗教倫理、思想及經濟結構上有不同的進展時,他們之間就開始存有明顯的差異。例子就如歐洲的發展,因為歐洲社會最先出現週期較快的突破,導致了幾個歐洲帝國崛起與開啟了文藝復興時期與啟蒙時代,其中的思想與科學君植根於西方文明,影響至今。

人類擁有反思的能力,因而被稱之為人,然而現今科技可能賦予機器人思考的能力,人工智能或將會重新定義生命的內蘊 (圖片來源: Wikimedia Commons)

以往在朝不保夕的時代,他們都渴望著現代化所帶來的穩定,而不斷的現代化則在不同時代產生出當時最主要的問題:在約一萬年前的農耕時代中,人民首要面對的就是經濟再分配所帶來的問題;工業時代中人民則面對著政治參與在社會擔任何等角色的問題;而在人工智能開始萌芽的年代,問題就在於「人類何時會變得過時?」因為人工智能(AI)的發展將會同時重新定義生命的內蘊,人類之所以稱之為人,是因為有反思的能力,但現今科技已經成功創造出包含生物性的人工產物,甚至是製造出納米機械人並應用在量子物理、量子計算、生物資訊等領域。而這些科技的發展最後更可能賦予這些活體機器人思考的能力。

福山·法蘭西斯曾提及科技發展滿足了對目標的控制及安全性 (圖片來源: Wikimedia Commons)

那麼科技發展如何敘述著人類的發展?以福山·法蘭西斯論述來說,人類歷史中的科技發展主要是為了滿足對目標的控制及安全性,而並非探求令人類生存得更容易、解放人性及社會的知識。因此,理性主義與科技突破往往被視為對人類的威脅,除非那是較為遠離的概念。放諸現代,所有網絡世界與搜尋引擎並沒有如預期般發展為有益的資訊及教育工具。這些成為了鞏固社會上既有的大勢力的工具,而網絡工具則被用作預測及計算群眾控制、社交媒體平台亦消除了人類在網絡的實體存在,成為人類同情心的垃圾桶。

 

在人類歷史中,我們如何對應科技帶來的社會變化?參考古希臘的例子,蘇格拉底、阿基米德、帕拉圖、阿里士多德等學者都沒有研究當代的平常社會現象,不然他們將討論古希臘為何是數學、科學、文學、哲學、政治理論的誕生地,同時也是個奴隸制的社會。這種短視而缺乏批判思考的行為,是對現代人的警號。

 

Throughout most of human history both progress and its horizontal transmission was an extremely slow and occasionally tedious process. Well into the classical period of Alexander the Great and his glorious library in Alexandria (now modern Egypt’s main Mediterranean port) – antiquity’s centre of both learning and Hellenistic culture – the speed of our knowledge transfers, however moderate and conservative, always outpaced our snail-like development cycles or any of our major social breakthroughs.

 

When our sporadic breakthroughs finally became faster than their infrequent transmissions, this marked a major turning point in the history of human development. Simply put, our civilizations started to significantly differentiate from each other in their respective techno-agrarian, politico-military, ethno-religious, ideological, and economic structures.

 

 

Faster cycles of technological breakthroughs occurred primarily in Europe. Those events, with all of their re-organisational effects, radically reconfigured Western society and eventually marked the birth of several great European empires, as well as the Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment, all of which were rooted in their (mainly) liberal schools of thought, education, science, and innovation. This led to the overall lasting dominance of Western Civilisation that we still experience today.

 

 

For the past few centuries, at times we’ve had to live in fear while also hoping that the hard timed would lead to more stability as society embraced more and more elements of what we usually call ‘modernity’. More than 10,000 years ago, during the Agrarian Age, the first inevitable questions about economic redistribution were first brought up. The Industrial Age of the 19th-century then added to that basic question what role political participation would plays in society. Now in the era of artificial intelligence, a new underreported challenge has emerged – when will humans become obsolete?

 

If one believes that this question is yet another example of philosophical melodrama, it is important to consider that society will soon have to redefine what it considers to be life itself.

 

Successful trials involving organic and inorganic elements as well as intrinsic and artificial creations have already been completed. AI now has it all – quantum physics, quantum computing, nanorobotics, bioinformatics, and organic tissue tailoring. All of this could eventually lead to a synthesis of all of the above into what are usually referred to as xenobots – a sort of living robot – and biodegradable symbiotic nanorobots that exclusively rely on self-navigable algorithms.

 

Although life remains to be lived, human introspection is the biggest factor that makes us human. Therefore, what does the history of technology tell us about the history of human development tell us so far?

 

Elaborating on a well-known argument by Francis Fukuyama, it is evident that throughout the entirety of human history as a technological movement aimed to satisfy the security and control of an objective. It was rarely, if at all, driven by a desire to gain knowledge that would make human existence easier or to bolster humanity’s emancipation and the liberation of societies at large. Thus, unless it was part of a wider concept, both intellectualism and technological breakthroughs were traditionally felt and perceived as a threat.

 

All cyber-social networks and related search engines never developed into the positive information and educational tools that they were originally portrayed to be. When they first appeared in the public’s conscious, they were seen as tools that would lead to a decentralised, but unified, forms of intelligence and knowledge writ large. Instead of promoting and opening up other cultures, however, they have more often served to maintain and further strengthen dominant themes/powers that were or are already deeply entrenched in the psyche of society. They have also, so far, only offered answers to our already existing anxieties in which the fear of so-called “free time” has become widespread as these are the moments when most people feel creative and often use the time for self-reflection.

 

Cyber-tools have become data-sponges that add to the predictability and calculability of control before they ever serve as en masse, user-friendly options for the public. Social media platforms are now dustbins for human empathy and are of particular interest as they have eliminated any real human presence in favour of technologies, which is now readily accepted by most of society as being entirely normal.

 

Looking back into the mists of history, how did we reflect on any new social dynamics that were created by the deployment of new technologies? In Ancient Greece, the brilliant minds of Socrates, Archimedes, Plato, Pythagoras, and Aristotle never concerned themselves with everyday life or something that they saw on every corner, every day of their lives. If they had, they would have discussed how Ancient Greece could simultaneously be the birthplace of mathematics, science, literature, philosophy, political theory, and drama, but also a slave-holding society. This myopia, this absence of critical thought, is highly disturbing and a warning for the present day.

 

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