Consider the question posed by the latest podcast from the Free Press: Is AI The End of the World? Or the Dawn of a New One?
I choose this example not because the framing is extreme but precisely because it’s so utterly common. These are the only options: we face utopia or apocalypse. There is no alternative. No third path is possible. The very notion that the world is going to mostly go on the way that it has, always the best bet you can make, has been written out of the conversation. It’s unthinkable that we might all be forced to continue to stumble along in the same mundane world, caught up in the same hazy fog we’ve all been caught in for so long. That notion is not just deprecated. Through the force of affirmation, it’s rendered impermissible.
I’ve been consuming news for something like 30 years. I’ve been in the media business for 15. This period of AI hype is among the most intellectually irresponsible and wildly conformist that I’ve ever seen. The stakes are low compared to past media failures, but I can’t remember a moment or story in which the same fundamental failures of common sense and humility were quite so universal. The sheer hubris…. There’s a lot I could say about all of this. For now I want only to ask you which of the following scenarios is more likely. Homo sapiens is about 300,000 years old, give or take 50,000. Here are the available options.
Despite the incredibly long odds against this happy coincidence, the period of your lifespan - which will likely be around 75 years, and thus cover about .025% of the human story to date - does in fact happen to overlap with the most important era in human history, the age of kings, the great conjunction, the time of heroes. Congratulations.
You do not, in fact, live in the most important era of human history. You have not been lucky enough to occupy some sort of liminal period for our species. But you have a consciousness system that compels you to think of yourself as uniquely special and thus begs you to believe that you live in special times. The idea that you are somehow not important, the notion that the universe had no special responsibility to produce you, is in a very deep sense unthinkable to you. Now a new technology has emerged, and those who stand to make billions off of it are telling you: you will never be lonely again; the meaning you’ve always pined for will be provided for you by superintelligent beings; you will not die, but have eternal life. Or, alternatively, you are soon to witness the end of the world, which will free you from everything you don’t like about your life and yourself. Either way - people are telling you that something very, very important is happening, and right now is important, and you live now, so you’re important, and you want to believe, have to believe, are desperate to believe. And so you do believe, even though it isn’t true.
So. Do absolutely everything you can to extricate yourself, momentarily, from what the maladaptive evolutionary byproduct we call consciousness is screaming in your ear, and ask yourself: which of these two stories is more likely?
There's good reason to think 1 is likely - if only because This Can't Go On https://www.cold-takes.com/this-cant-go-on/ (highly recommend his other posts in the Most Important Century series)
A man is walking through Washington Square Park when he spots his favorite blogger playing chess...with a dog. He watches for awhile, and although far short of expert level himself, he knows enough to see that the dog has some game. "Incredible," he exclaims. "A chess-playing dog!".
"Aw he's not so great," replies Freddie. "I beat him two out of three."