Climate change and technological singularity. Two dissimilar dystopias.
or: if computers shall rule, which climate should we leave them?
The unknown unknown.
Who doesn`t know the notion: you are plagued by fear, the danger gives you sleepless nights for weeks on end. Finally, it turns out that the concern was unwarranted and everything will be fine.
Conversely, one is suddenly and unexpectedly thrown into misery, fate strikes unexpectedly. A diagnosis, a tax bill, an arrest.
In other words. most of the time you get run over by the train you can’t see. Which is hardly surprising in itself.
Dystopias of our time.
Every age has its dystopias. In my childhood it was the nuclear winter and overpopulation. In my home country Germany we were most concerned about the “Waldsterben” (dying of forests). Then later the dissolving ozone layer.
We have two major dystopias in our time. These are climate change and the technological singularity.
The amazing thing is that every child is now familiar with climate change. The singularity, on the other hand, is largely ignored outside of interested circles. It is the more fundamental problem. (So you may not have heard of it, the concept cannot be covered in the context of this short treatise, Wikipedia will help.)
Climate change will cause problems for mankind. The singularity will end humanity.
Climate change is very likely to cause significant problems.
The singularity, on the other hand, will almost definitely terminate our existence.
Two Armageddi competing.
If we realize that both events will almost certainly occur, i.e. on the one hand humanity will be completely superfluous due to technology, and on the other hand that the planet will warm up to such an extent that it will become a significant impairment to life on this planet, how do we see the interactions between these two major challenges.
Can we really look at the questions as isolated Problems?
- are they two disjoint problems, do they stand next to each other without reciprocal interaction?
- are the two problems of comparable relevance?
- Are the problems perhaps even in a relationship of exclusivity to one another? In other words might only ONE of the problems be relevant?
The race to the end of times.
The answer to the question is entwined with the passage of time. If the technological singularity cannot be expected for 500 years to come and climate change will already bear upon us in let`s say 50 years or so — it is worth making efforts towards reversing climate change. Thus we will grant our descendants a few more centuries of geopolitical stability, or at least one of the prerequisites for such.
As far as the time element is concerned, there are only estimates for both developments.
Climate change has already started, but a tipping point doesnt seem to have been reached yet or to be in prospect for the lifetimes of our children. The sea level rises by 3 mm annually, in 330 years it will have risen by one meter. Just enough time to build the one dike or another, develop other effective technologies or plainly adapt. In addition, we are dealing here with a linear process or with a process that will only later assume an exponential course — if it does so at all.
The singularity is the point at which machines will reproduce and autonomously advance technological development at such a rapid pace that in a few seconds much larger leaps will occur than mankind has made in the last 6,000 years. The oldest estimate assumes this point in time for 2045. That seems to be too pessi- / optimistic, since — according to experts — artificial intelligence is still in its infancy. So the computing capacity is there, but the software is still lagging behind. But when the point occurs, the curve will be so exponential that it will deviate little from a vertical course. We’re talking about an explosive development that will change everything in a few minutes, hours and days. We do not know when that point will be reached, but it will not be another 500 years. More like 100. Or 50. When we see it coming, we probably won’t be able to tell our grandchildren any more.
It depends from which perspective we are speaking.
Humanity will either no longer exist — because it will no longer offer the more powerful artificial intelligences any advantages and still consume resources — or they will be tolerated, but hardly have a say in climate matters. As a not so minor consolation, the AI will presumably be rational and therefore not sadistic, so it should at least be a quick and merciful end.
The artificial intelligences will presumably create the climate that is most useful to them. We cannot know which climate that will be. That depends on whether the AI needs a carrier material and physical processes and of which kind they will be — something that we cannot possibly predict.
Ultimately, we won’t have to decide that, not just because we can’t, but because the variant of AI that will prevail will be powerful enough to create any climate.