Artificial Intelligence

From the Greek Gods to Homo Deus

Having recently read Yani Varoufakis’s book, The weak suffer what the must, a recounting of his five months as finance minister of Greece during the Greek financial crisis, I found that the origin of the book title lay within the Melian Dialogue written in 416 BC, part of Thucydides History of the Peloponnesian War when Greek gods reigned supreme. I then read the entire Dialogue and was struck by how Realpolitik was practiced then very much as it is today. And I congratulated myself on seeing the dialogue as a lesson from the past for today’s world, how little humankind has changed over it long history.

I followed that book reading a review of Yuval Noah Harari’s coming book, Homo Deus, a sequel if you will, of his brilliant book, Sapiens, a Brief history of Humankind. As the reviewer wrote, Harari in Sapiens told us about our past 75,000 years and in Homo Deus, he tells us what the future hold for us. In a few words, it comes down to “the end of history”. Not as in the book End of History, and the Last Man propounded by Francis Fukuyama in 1992, a treatise about liberal democracy being the epitome of political systems, a treatise long since dismissed.

But Homo Deus is not an end of history book in the sense that things have come to a stop as much as it is a history of what is to be. However, If Harari is right and Big Data and/or Strong AI do develop as foreseen, it could indeed be the end of history and the last man. In fact, Harari opines that “we are probably one of the last generations of homo sapiens”

I had already put forward a similar thesis in my blog post of December 2014 titled “AI and the End of the Human Era” in which I postulated:

…..looking at AI philosophically and anthropologically, and the positive role it could play, I am less concerned than most people. Stephen Hawking argues that because of the glacial progress of human evolution and the warp speed of computability of a future AI, human evolution would be left far behind the evolution of AI. I think this is right, but that might not be a bad thing. Human evolution is due a major upgrade, one that is needed more quickly than that offered by natural selection, and I believe that is the role AI can play. It could result in a melding of man with machine or eventually, a purely machine intelligence, thus accelerating the next step in our present evolution or ushering in an entirely new species, one silicon-based, not carbon-based. Either way I believe our species is reaching the end of its usefulness and if AI doesn’t replace it, humans will bring about their own extinction, and the end of Anthropocene era, the human geological epoch.

This said, as interesting as past history might be and the lessons for our present it holds, we need now to look to the future and how the developments in technology will transform all life on the planet because past human history will have absolutely no bearing on a future in which Homo Deus is the dominant species.

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