“Omnipresent surveillance is as certain as, artificial intelligence permeating every institutions, every transaction — as sure as algorithms transformed the world wide web from a human endeavor, into something owned by tech corporations.”
Futurism can be a valuable exercise. Sometimes it may even provide unique insights that can allow us to make some changes in the now to help ensure the future is a better time. It cannot do that without a rock solid foundational understanding of the present, particularly as it relates to the things it purports to speculate about in the future. Without that it is nothing more than science fiction without the literary aspirations. Imagine a would be philosopher trying to apply the teachings of Descartes to the problems of today without having read, and more importantly, read and thoroughly understood, the entire corpus of his work. Unfortunately it seems that too many futurists believe the present and even the past are unimportant, that they are poor guides to what is to come. Even worse, it seems many, as exemplified by the quote above, have a less than complete understanding of the world as it exists today. The actual reality of the world as it exists today, not the made up, media driven, fake world in which artificial intelligence is real (it is not), machines can learn (they cannot).
In the example quote I led the post with a futurist suggests that something is certain (omnipresent surveillance) to come to pass in the future, by comparing it to something which does not yet exist (artificial intelligence) in the present. Any credibility this person may have had as someone with some special insight about the future has been completely lost. More than most, it is beholden on would be futurists to take extra time to educate themselves on the reality of the world today, before making predictions about the future. How can I trust someone to speculate about an imagined future if he appears to be living in an imaginary present? What is permeating many institutions and many transactions is not intelligent. It is not some newly created/born/invented disembodied but conscious being that lives in the world wide web and obeys the commands of its police state techno masters. It is computing as it has been done for the past 15 years or so, but using algorithms designed with (slightly) more advanced math and statistics. These algorithms are coded by human beings and makeup programs which are then “run” on machines called computers. These machines execute the code in the same way they always have, following the instructions as given by the code in the same way they always have. They do only what they are programmed to do, no more, and no less because that is what machines called computers do. They do not learn, by the very definitions of the words ‘machine’ and ‘learning’ they cannot. The result of the combination of those two words is a term which is a logical contradiction. It is also logically impossible. We do not even know how a human being learns and yet think we can say machines do it. It is absurd and it is nonsense. There are many theories about how human beings/human brain learns, all of which have some claim to being the “correct” one, none of which are without controversy or dissenters. There are as many definitions of what it is to ‘learn’ as there are theories of learning about which the same could be said. The story is equally confused for the word and concept of intelligence.
Learning, intelligence, these concepts are fuzzy and hard, they are not words to be used lightly and/or applied to other concepts/words/things without serious contemplation of the appropriateness and consequences of doing so. It is unfortunate that in the case of machine learning and artificial intelligence this serious forethought was not given, and these terms are widely (mis)used and (mis)applied. However, just because a thing is widely accepted does not mean that it is correct or appropriate. As a supposed wise seer with knowledge of the future ordinary persons cannot see, the futurist is more accountable to the accuracy of their statements than most, and must be ever vigilant for errors of this nature. At the very least, it is incumbent upon them to not propagate such mistakes if they are unwilling or unable to go further, and actively lobby to correct them.