Will We Recognize It When It Happens?


Many potential paths lead to a technological "superintelligence," onto which a supremacy imperative can be affixed—a superintelligence that might enslave or annihilate mankind.

Technology has long outstripped humanity across legion competencies—even many for which evolution designed us. For instance, discriminating the sex of human faces is a task we humans are designed by evolution to do. Yet even there—and already a quarter century ago—computers bested us. This is one among illimitable illustrations that for myriad tasks—ones we are bad and 'good' at—computers have long, already, eclipsed humans.

Since those primordial days, countless innovations and applications (think GPS, drones, deep networks…) by innumerable individuals provide pieces of a puzzle that, when interconnected, proffer a profusion of paths toward future extermination or domination of man by machine. But just as the target for computer "intelligence" shifts as we acclimate to the latest ability, so too the march toward technological supremacy may go unnoticed, as each incremental encroachment is taken for granted.

Must we even await the future? The answer depends how one defines the question.

1. How many steps removed must the human input be, to deem the technology culpable?

2. How clear must the chasm be, between machine and man?

3. Must malice prepense drive humanity’s destruction or subjugation?

4. Must everyone be killed or enslaved?

Even insisting upon actions far removed from human input, proscribing human-computer fusion (or collusion!), prescribing premeditation, and mandating that all mankind be massacred: The potential remains clear. But suppose we relax these constraints?

1. If human input need be at no remove: Fretting over whose finger was on the proverbial "button"—as enshrined in Tom Lehrer lyrics—predates the rise of modern digital technology.

2. Capacity-enhancing wearables/externals (spanning old-fashioned glasses and ear trumpets to hearing aids, i-watches and Oscar Pistorius legs) and implantables (cochleas, pacemakers, radiocontrolled spinal devices for paralyzed persons) blur the partition between man and machine. The keen and reluctant alike partake, invested with childfinder microchips or adorned with GPS ankle bracelets. Primitive exemplars have long flaunted their destructive potential—recognizing explosives-belts as wearables; or reconstruing biological warfare agents—like the smallpox deployed willfully to vanquish Native Americans—as implantables.

3. May humanity's downfall be epiphenomenal? Or must technology "premeditate" human death, decline, or subjugation?

Considering Subjugation: Many now devote their existence to serv(ic)ing technology and nurturing its "evolution." Multitudes mine minerals, design devices, craft programs and "apps," or abet devices' diaspora—channeling custody to further caregivers who can serve and service them—or pay for same. (Humans service technology, enabling technology to better conduct "its" business; even as technology services humans, that humans might better conduct our own.)

Even now, a dispassionate onlooker could justly question—for man vs machine—which is master, and who slave?

Considering Death, Decline,Disability: TICS and TIMS—that is, toxic industrial chemicals, toxic industrial materials—from production, use, distribution and disposition of technology—and electromagnetic exposures (from technology itself, or communication signals therefrom)—are substantive contributors to the explosion of oxidative stress (OS—cell injury of a type against which antioxidants protect), and associated human afflictions and death—from cancer to neurodegenerative disease, obesity and metabolic syndrome, autoimmune disease, to chronic multisymptom illness and autism spectrum disorder.

The lattermost conditions seem selectively to smite the best and brightest—the would-be "superintelligent"?—of our own "kind"— as others also observe. I suggest that since OS injures mitochondria—the energy powerhouses of cells; and since those whose biology disposes them to greater brain connectivity and activity also demand more cell energy; such potentially-superpowered persons have heightened hazard of cell damage and death. Shortfalls of energy supply, due to OS, are magnified in settings of high energy demand. (Even "typical" human brains, at ~2% of body weight, consume ~20% of the oxygen and ~50% of the glucose of the total body.) One consequence: The rise of “superintelligent” computers may already have come at selective cost to the would-be superintelligent among mankind.

So yes, in the obvious sense, technology may become superintelligent, and elect to annihilate or enslave us. But it may progress to similar ends through less obvious means—and may be in that process as we speak.