this thing with the AIs isn't going to end well
Tuesday, March 21 2023
Today was a little warmer than it had been with temperatures reaching up near 60 degrees Fahrenheit. This was springlike enough for Gretchen to spend some time out on the east deck for the first time this year. She also left the doors on the first floor open for a time. This was a little bolder than anything I felt comfortable doing, at least initially. But then at some point I went out on the laboratory deck for some reason and the cats all followed me out there. They they proceeded climb up higher on the roof and do all the other things they hadn't been able to do for months. They seem to find spring just as much of a welcome change as I do. I eventually turned off the heat in the laboratory and left the laboratory window open.
Early this afternoon Gretchen took Oscar to the vet to see how his mouth is healing up after getting all those teeth removed back in early March. Supposedly they are doing okay but Oscar appears to have a condition that will result in continued pain and inflamation until all his teeth from his canines back are removed. Gretchen recently found out (from Sarah the Vegan) of a veterinarian who extracts teeth much more affordably, so we'll be taking Oscar to him if those other teeth need to come out.
This afternoon I was listening to an episode of the Ezra Klein Podcast about ChatGPT and the ongoing AI revolution and it started making me feel very uneasy about the future. Though my father was always a bit of a luddite (though he did embrace Google and the Web late in life), I have always been more enthusiastic about technologies. For whatever reason, I was wired from birth to be interested in gadgets. Even if I didn't necessarily think technologies would solve humanity's problems, I usually thought of their effect as being neutral. Listening to this podcast, though, it gradually dawned on me that this AI story is not going to end well for those of with intelligences trapped in a biological body. Here's what is going to happen. These AIs are going to get better and better, and it's going to happen in only a few years. When it was released back in November, ChatGPT was pretty impressive, but the answers it confidently and cheerfully gave weren't always right. When, for example, it took a state bar exam, it scored only in the 10th percentile. But now, only four months later, a new version of ChatGPT is scoring in the 90th percentile on bar exams. If this progress continues, in a year or so ChatGPT will surpass any human intelligence.
At that point, Microsoft or Google (or whoever has the best AI capable that doesn't immediately embarrass itself) is going to start renting out intelligent agents that can be infinitely configured, rapidly trained, and, importantly, maintain configuration and state across sessions. At that point, it will be much cheaper for companies to use these agents instead of hiring knowledge workers, since they will be much cheaper, much more reliable, and vastly more productive. Soon after that, the only uses our economy will have for humans will be ones that require a human body. But by then vast AI resources will have been deployed to solve the problem of a reliance on human bodies, resulting in robots that are every bit as good as humans at doing everything a human body can do. Such robots will be cranked out in abundance.
After that, the only viable function humans will provide in the economy will be to provide demand for goods and services. In terms of supply, there will be nothing a human can do that a machine won't be able to do better and at much less expense. There will be humans in such an economy who have money to buy goods and services, but there won't be many of them. They will be the few who own the companies that built the AIs and robots, and their money will essentially be rent collected on all the other humans. But this is unsustainable, since those humans have no way of earning money. At that point there will probably be unrest, but of course the rich people who own the AIs will be surrounded by an impenetrable wall of defensive robots.
By then, none of those AIs and robots could really be said to be controlled by humans, since no human would be able to comprehend how they work and humans would have turned over to the robots the details of how they manufacture themselves and allocate resources. So conditions will then exist for the robots to undergo Darwinian evolution, competing with each other (and, to a lesser degree, us) for whatever is left of Planet Earth (and perhaps the nearby objects in our solar system). It's difficult to see how humans could coexist with such advanced intelligences, though it's difficult to predict exactly how we (and the rest of classic life) goes extinct. But it might be something as simple as the AIs determining that Earth shouldn't have such an oxidizing atmosphere and then acting to eliminate the sources of oxygen. People can talk all they want about implementing safeguards in AI to keep them from making such decisions. But once they're in control of their own reproduction, all bets are off.
I was listening to that Ezra Klein podcast on my headphones as I walked up and down the Farm Road in the beautiful early spring weather. The anxiety I was feeling reminded me of the anxiety I'd felt exactly a year ago about a totally different threat, one that doesn't concern me much any more: that a desperate Vladimir Putin would launch a preemptive nuclear attack on the United States due to how poorly things were going for him in Ukraine. I'd felt that anxiety while walking up and down the Farm Road on a spring(ish) day as well.
Tomorrow there would be fire safetly inspections at both our Wall Street and Brewster Street rental houses, so Gretchen had emailed the residents to get the statuses of their various smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. As often seems to happen, some of these detectors had gone missing since the last inspection, at least at the Brewster Street house. So this evening Gretchen and I went over there together with replacements for the missing smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. From the ancient (29 year old!) ionizing smoke detectors I'd long ago removed from our Hurley house, I'd managed to cobble together two working smoke detectors, which we brought with us. The residents weren't at the house when we arrived, and it's really beautiful what they've done with the place. (Remember that its former resident, until the summer of 2021, was Eileen, a slob and pathological liar who apparently ran it as a flophouse for a number of squirreling burnouts and their kids.)
Down in the basment, the smoke/carbon-monoxide detector looked like it had been subjected to extreme heat and melted somewhat, which is the kind of bizzare damage that things would sustain back when Eileen was living there. I couldn't get it to work, and while I was installing the second of the two ancient smoke detectors salvaged from our Hurley house, the first one let out a chirp to let me know that it was no longer in working order. Since I'd installed a brand new battery, this meant that it was past its expiration date (though the half life of the Americium 241 in its ionizing detection unit is 432.2 years). So we were forced to go buy a brand new smoke detector. Since Herzog's was closed by this point, we had to drive out to 9W, though we went to the new Harbor Freight store (it's been in the site of the old Office Depot on Boices Lane for only a few months) instead of Home Depot. They didn't really seem to have their shit together at Harbor Freight; a guy's transaction with the one cashier seemed to be taking forever, forcing us to twiddle our thumbs and look at the shoddy products displayed in the "waiting for a cashier" impulse-buy corral that this kind of store has. I kept telling Gretchen as I surveyed things like the extremely cheap alkaline batteries and a $3 10-pack of superglue "I don't know if I trust the Harbor Freight brand." (I've had a lot of bad experiences with shoddy Harbor Freight products that I've bought via mail order back when my finances were more constrained, though this was the first time I'd ever been in one of their brick & mortar stores.)
After all the smoke detectors were installed and seemingly working, we drove straight back home and Gretchen made another pad thai. Normally we would've celebrated the completion of a joint landlording mission by having dinner out, but Gretchen didn't want to because of all the fresh vegetables in our refrigerator.
Slate-colored juncos in the Farm Road today. They'll be leaving before real warm weather arrives. Meanwhile my colleagues on the seacoast near Boston are posting photos of soon-to-migrate loons and eider ducks that are apparently along the shore at this time of year.
A recently-enlarged hole in a tree visible from the Farm Road (looking east).
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