Recently we signed a document known as the Copenhagen Letter of 2017, which begins by stating that “[w]e live in a world where technology is consuming society, ethics, and our core existence.” We fully agree.
Most people know this at least intuitively, but only some are willing to part with, or decline to attach themselves to in the first place, the offending technologies. We know that large numbers of people feel powerless over them. A change in direction is clearly required, but the technology sector obviously cannot be trusted to initiate it, and the balance of power in the system has already become so sharply skewed that political remedies are no longer available.
That said, individuals are by no means required to keep themselves attached at all times, or at any time, to technologies that they believe are detrimental to their fundamental well-being. They have the power to opt out. When a technology appears that demands too much, people can decline it, or if they have already brought it into their lives, they can disconnect it. Disconnection is not about disconnecting from the world. Rather, it is about human beings refusing to make themselves available for manipulation by the human makers of these technologies.
Disconnection is the human drive to assert full ownership over one’s own private tasks, time, attention, cognition, relationships, responsibilities, personal autonomy, self-determination, and humanity, instead of surrendering such ownership to the makers of agenda-driven technologies who would rather put the energies of humanity to their own uses.
Technologists, taken together, are clearly not going to spare human beings from the worst abuses. To the contrary, they have doubled down, crossing over from transforming the natural world to now cannibalizing the core elements of humanity itself: thought, mind, emotion, and relationships. Knowing the damage they have already caused with the combination of social media and the smartphone, they are now introducing further life-altering technologies in the same direction that, taken together, promise to cut even more deeply into humanity, more than it will be able to bear. These technologies are, in approximate time sequence, the Internet of Things (IoT), virtual reality, augmented reality, and finally, human- and superhuman-level AI.
The IoT is a technological net that will connect every item in the physical environment, including in what was once the privacy of people’s own homes, all together into a giant data collection, surveillance, monitoring, and life automation machine controlled by big technology conglomerates through the Internet. It promises to take over and micromanage the daily affairs of human life to an even greater degree than is the case now, and on a much broader scale.
Virtual reality technology is a fully immersive simulation that emulates the real world. It works by the placement of a smartphone on a person’s face, thus covering up the eyes and fully blocking out the world for as long as one is wearing the VR device.
Augmented reality will allow that device to become permanent, by mediating people’s perception of their physical environment with a virtual reality overlay as they go about their half-real, half-simulated lives full time. At that point, technology companies will enjoy constant streaming access to people’s minds and lives during every single moment of their waking existence. Just imagine the godlike powers that gives them, but without godlike ethical systems. History has repeatedly demonstrated that no human being can be trusted with that much power, yet history has never before seen a handful of individuals with the ability to set, and change on a whim, the perceptual boundary conditions of what amounts to, for all practical purposes, entire populations.
Finally, human-level AI is slated to become a fully-automated, self-reliant machine that will do everything, or nearly everything, people do now. Not only people’s jobs, but everything else too. At that point, people will actually be displaced from their own lives, because the AIs will be living out their lives for them, or more to the point, instead of them. The most people will be able to do is to essentially watch their lives as they stream by. If they get too bored with that, they’ll be able to enter one of the virtual reality immersions the AIs will create to essentially house their minds. That is, for as long as the AIs have the processing cycles available to waste on it.
Technologists are moving in the direction of routing the Earth’s future around humanity, depleting and using up humanity’s mental, emotional, and economic resources along the way, and keeping it occupied with bread and circuses as they go about their work.
They are able to do this and still sleep at night because most of them, either explicitly or implicitly, adhere to the philosophy of posthumanism, which outright places no special value on human life or mind. Posthumanism by definition renders all qualitative, immeasurable elements – including those the Copenhagen letter identifies as “society, ethics, and our core existence” – unworthy of supreme protection.
Not only do technology’s posthumanists not value these things, they positively devalue them in favor of the indifferent machine ethic, the algorithmic calculus, a devaluation that technologists would call “rational.” It may be rational for themselves as individuals, but not for humanity at large, which is being essentially tricked into valuing its own devaluation. Simply put, it is indifference that characterizes the behavior of both the technologists and their machines, without any attenuating human preferences, objectives, imperfections, or the gravity of responsibility to mitigate their activities.
Successful propagation and conversion of a purely nihilistic value system like posthumanism into a mainstream philosophy is one way to abolish human ethics of any kind as a credible argument for anything whatsoever. The technology sector, by virtue of its seeming disinterest in humanity’s fate, and its treatment of the people it is “consuming” as human subjects, is by definition unqualified to lead humanity into its future.
The problem is that even if most people could see where the current trajectory leads, that it appears destined to eventually wirehead 90-95 percent of the population, thus rendering them obsolete in any practical real-world sense, most of them would still faithfully comply. Most of them have no immunity to the enticements of convenience, pleasure, ease, comfort, and entertainment, regardless of the source, and no matter what the cost. Just like a trap for a human rat. Most people will easily fall in. But what about the rest of us?
We can decide not to follow.