the inexorable

Image: Joan-Josep Tharrats


A six-month truce in AI research isn't going to solve anything. Look with tenderness and compassion at the world around you, for it will disappear in a sigh.

In the last few weeks, Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari has written a couple of articles claiming that artificial intelligence (AI) has “hacked” the “operating system” of the human species. It is a metaphor: “operating system” here means language. The machine has finally taken over our forms of expression and communication – and the danger it poses is unprecedented, colossal, greater than any we have known before.

Yuval Noah Harari weaves arguments with irresistible clarity. Author of world bestsellers such as Homo Sapiens (published in Brazil by Companhia das Letras), has the gift of making some of the most excruciating dilemmas of our time palatable, accessible and even engaging. The first of the articles, originally published in The New York Times, was translated into newspapers and brazilian websites.

Shortly after, the writer led a transnational petition calling for a six-month truce in artificial intelligence research. Then he returned to the load with a new text, this time in the English weekly The Economist, (April 28th), posted in Portuguese on the website the earth is round, with the same message: a technology capable of taking over the human language has everything to encumber all of humanity.

The argument proceeds. All myths, all religions and all cultures that exist or have existed on the face of the Earth are not made of amino acids or chromosomes, but of linguistic signs. These signs underpin the “operating system” of our faith systems, our artistic expression and our identity – they are the fabric of our consciousness. Soon, software e hardware who appropriate this “system” will be able to rule us. This is why, in the opinion of many well-informed people, artificial intelligence is on a par with nuclear weapons in terms of destructive potential.

But that's not even the half of the requiem mass that has just begun. If we look at the issue head on, we will notice that Yuval Harari could have said more than he did. The development of the call machine learning. big data and self-programmable equipment follows an unstoppable course. No undersigned can stop it. The point of no return may already be behind us.

To understand the irreversibility of the technological process, it is good to remember that other process, the juridical one, as described by Franz Kafka. Regardless of the existence or not of evidence, the judicial plot was moving forward, without anyone being able to stop it. Technology, like law, is a human creation. Unlike law, however, it grows stronger as it becomes dehumanized and frees itself from people.

Martin Heidegger sensed something similar when he spoke of the power of technology in the first half of the XNUMXth century. Three hundred years before, Thomas Hobbes noted that the State, possessed by the monster Leviathan, would do what it wanted, against anyone. The feeling that human ingenuity manufactures “monsters” that take on a life of their own is not new. Adam Smith envisioned such an “invisible hand” pulling the strings of the market. Karl Marx detected an “automatic subject” hidden in some recess between commodity and capital.

Reality proved them right. The bureaucracy that Max Weber viewed with a twinge of optimism soon degraded into Stalinism and ate up his parents, as if confirming the curse of the novel. Frankenstein, from 1818, in which Mary Shelley portrayed the creature that subjugates the creator. In the tragedies of Ancient Greece, the fatality that had no government was called destiny. In modern times, you can call it the unconscious. Thought even understands what it contemplates, but it has no way of preventing it.

And here we are, face to face with artificial intelligence. The possibility of taming her is slim. She accomplished the feat of removing human language from the domain of flesh-and-blood speakers. She, the language, which could only exist through us, will now be able to live beyond us. Let's not underestimate the size of this small step that will be a big leap for technology. The linguist Ferdinand de Saussure taught that whoever invents a language and puts it into circulation loses control over it. Soon, we may lose control over the machines that learned to speak the language that was ours alone.

Artificial intelligence automates protocols that were human in origin and extracts effective predictions from them, on progressively faster and more gigantic scales. It grows and becomes more complex within the bunkers private and opaque big tech – or inside the best kept secrets of the State, also opaque. There is currently no political force capable of breaking these two opacities simultaneously. No, a six-month truce won't solve anything. Our chances are slim.

Look with tenderness and compassion at the world around you, because it will disappear in a sigh.

* Eugene Bucci He is a professor at the School of Communications and Arts at USP. Author, among other books, of Uncertainty, an essay (authentic).

Originally published in the newspaper The State of S. Paul.

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