Orwellian vs Humane 5IR? The choice is still ours
By Dr Rais Hussin and Dr Margarita Peredaryenko March 29, 2021
- Power to choose course of 5IR ourselves as sovereign nation only if get 4IR right
- Atheists and the religious alike already question the extent to how far AI can go
There is no sense of EVERYONE being quite ready for the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) yet, as few futurists start trumpeting the forthcoming of 5IR. Perhaps, it makes sense to slow down for just a moment and contemplate deeper and more critical on what it all entails to humanity.
After all, every self-defensive driver knows well that one's foot, most of the time, should be closer to the brake pedal rather than the accelerator. When it comes to powerful ideologies that envelop the world, our critical mind and wisdom play the role of such a brake pedal.
4IR, as we know, is all about the proliferation of cyber-physical systems. These systems aggregate data about every object and event of the physical world, analyse the most intricate and subtle patterns and produce a solution that can now be applied back to the physical world very often without human intervention by robotics powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI).
The 5IR phraseology is starting to appear among academia and industry practitioners. It is still vague and an inchoate mass of ideas on the subject.
A brief thematic analysis of 5IR mentions reveals that 5IR is expected to be about "closer cooperation between humans and machines" or even a "combination" of the two. Most of these 5IR mentions do not specify how close this "cooperation" or "combination" would be. Humans and machines are to "dance together”, metaphorically, in the 5IR.
However, more details slip through from the World Economic Forum (WEF) content, one of the most vocal ideologists platform behind the contemporary IRs. Read carefully the following quote taken word-to-word from one of the WEF videos.
"The very idea of the human being some sort of natural concept is really going to change. Our bodies will become so high tech that we will not be able to really distinguish between what is natural and what is artificial."
And this is not just futuristic speculation. There is already a cluster of technologies in the development pipeline to connect the machine and human brain on a very deep level, importantly, not only for therapeutic but also for lifestyle and commercial purposes. And all of this is going to be powered by AI, of course.
According to the industry observers, at the forefront of the most high-profile investment in these technologies are Facebook, Google, Amazon and Elon Musk's Neuralink.
These technologies are still nascent but have great potential of becoming that foundational platform for the 5IR or the "neuro quantified" era (Bryan Johnson, founder of Kernel), for example, implantable brain-machine interfaces, nano-sensors, tiny AI, genomics and gene editing, quantum computers, to list just a few.
For now, there are already some breakthroughs in establishing the connection in the direction from our brain to machines. Once the opposite direction is established, the widespread "implantable technologies for health and other purposes" may become our day-to-day reality sooner than we might imagine.
However, should not the very idea of merging artificial intelligence with human intelligence on that deep physical (in the form of implantable technologies) rather than the metaphorical level at least concern us, especially its "other" potential uses? After all, technology is a potentially powerful tool of control and manipulation.
Furthermore, stepping into a domain which to date solely belonged to God should at least raise the believers' eyebrows. Every major religion mandates no change to be made to the creation of God. And the human is one of His most sophisticated and sacred creations.
In the same line, both atheists and religious individuals alike already today question the extent to how far AI can go. After all, anything "artificial" has no heart, soul, sympathy, empathy, wisdom or self-sacrifice—elements necessary to form human intelligence.
AI has undoubtedly learned a great deal of how to transform data into information and even knowledge. However, the highest processed form of information for a human being is not knowledge. It is wisdom! As an input, wisdom requires not only known facts and semantics of the physical world but rather the knowledge of unseen universal laws.
Those unseen universal laws and unseen connections seem to be encoded in the human soul (out of AI reach)—an ephemeral and mysterious substance that makes human being chose to do the right thing even if it is difficult of even self-detrimental to do so. We call this moral-ethical integrity.
Let us illustrate this with a real-life story and a very eloquent example.
Imagine war. A soldier is looking out of the trench and sees the enemy aiming at him. However, he manages to pull the trigger first and hits the target. However, the opposing soldier is not killed but badly wounded, and now the soldier hears how the wounded enemy moaning and murmuring in a foreign language.
The soldier then awaits for the night, crawls towards the badly injured soldier, takes out his first aid kit and dresses the wound. Then, fearful of being executed if anybody saw him treating the enemy, he crawls back to his trench.
How would an AI solution act in such a situation? Is that an enemy? By all the input parameters, he is the enemy — the AI algorithm would tell this soldier. And what you do to an enemy? Finish him off.
Given the soldier bases his decision solely on AI, he could never feel this unexplained urge to crawl to his wounded opponent, even under the fear of death, and help him simply out of empathy and compassion, simply because, even an enemy, both of you are humans.
AI's "brain" might be super-efficient at dividing, sorting, and clustering us into groups. However, only the human soul sees the unseen universal ties connecting us despite all the differences.
This innate humane instinct is not intelligence; it is the will of God. And now imagine if this humane instinct is skillfully turned off or augmented or overriden via the most sophisticated machine-brain interface by AI? And if it is done on a massive scale, we have a situation unimaginable even to James Orwell, author of 1984.
Should we then race to use 4IR or even 5IR tools to augment human beings and other biological spheres? Or should we recalibrate our use, draw a clear line, and focus on understanding and restoring all the natural processes within our bodies, societal systems, and natural habitat?
Should we not focus on restoring the importance of every individual on a micro-level (and nation on the macro level) rather than opening an opportunity for the greatest level of control and manipulation of human nature itself?
We will have the power to choose the course of 5IR ourselves as a sovereign nation only if we get 4IR right in the first place (read the earlier article Towards Sovereign 4IR).
All in all, the conceptualisation of 5IR, as proposed by some influential ideologists and technocrats, for now, raises more questions than provides definite answers. But sometimes, a properly formulated question is more correct and valuable than the answer itself.
Dr Rais Hussin and Dr Margarita Peredaryenko are part of the research team at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.