1. Artificial Intelligence: Introduction
Since we’ve had this explosion of Artificial Intelligence in the last decade, several intriguing experiences have emerged. In China , an algorithm analyzed large quantities of photographs of known criminals, and found symmetries and facial proportions common to all of them. More impressive than that was that these patterns made it possible to analyze new portraits and to separate the criminals from ordinary citizens with 90% accuracy.
We also know that Artificial Intelligence can predict our personality through an analysis of our eye movements. Or our age or sexual orientation also through a photograph. In both these and other cases, the algorithms have achieved impressive predictive capabilities.
These examples are based on physical appearance, but when we move on to behavior-based predictions, many more previously undetectable patterns are uncovered.
A supermarket with access to its customers’ purchasing data acquires amazing forecasting power. For instance, an algorithm is able to detect small changes in a female customer’s purchasing habits, and conclude with a high probability that she is pregnant. One of the patterns revealed was that women at the beginning of the second trimester started buying odorless lotions.
We also know that Facebook needs no more than our likes to accurately predict our sexual orientation, life satisfaction, level of intelligence, emotional stability, religion, level of alcohol and drug use, relationship status, age, gender, ethnicity, political orientation, among other attributes.
What does this tell us about ourselves? That we are predictable and that our intimate and highly personal choices are guessed in advance by algorithms.
In other words, Artificial Intelligence has confirmed what the most attentive have always known: that we have no free will.
This does not necessarily have to be something terrible. Yes, it is possible to let this knowledge lead us into an existential crisis; but it is also possible to use it as a tool to better understand what we are.
But regardless of what we decide to do with this information, the truth is that the Big Tech companies did not waste time using it for their own benefit.
2. Technology in a World of Cause and Effect
Artificial Intelligence has already demonstrated unbelievable potential. It is the technology that allows Tesla to create cars with incredible accident avoidance capabilities. It is the technology that allows detection of heart failure with 100% effectiveness by analyzing a single heartbeat from an electrocardiogram. It is the technology that reduces the time needed to diagnose Alzheimer’s by six years.
However, this is only a partial analysis. A phenomenon with this disruptive power cannot be expected to, miraculously have only positive implications for society.
Personalized Advertising, Introduction
Over the past 15 years, companies like Google and Facebook have established themselves as reference platforms, gathering all kinds of information about us in the process.
With Artificial Intelligence, it has become possible to use this data to achieve what is known as personalized advertising. By knowing some things about us – things that we make a point of voluntarily providing – the algorithms of these companies can predict many others. This creates a behavioral profile about us.
All this information is then well organized and cataloged, allowing other companies to advertise their products in a more focused way. The more an algorithm knows about us, the more effective its recommendations and advertising become.
Following this logic to its extreme, if absolutely everything about us was known, it would be possible to achieve an 100% efficiency rate for each ad shown. If the algorithm knew my emotional state was A, my bank balance was B, my relationship status yesterday was C but today is D, and so on, then I’d be shown ad X. And I would be forced by the laws of physics to click on it, although I would do so under the illusion that the choice had been mine.
But what’s wrong with receiving personalized ads? Isn’t it better to receive content that is relevant to me rather than things that don’t matter? Well, before I answer that, we need to understand that our society has a problem on its hands.
A Collective Existential Crisis
Modern society faces an existential crisis. Three causes seem obvious to me:
Cause 01: Scientific Advances, Materialism, Secularism
Scientific progress can reveal disruptive information to our personal beliefs. Even before Artificial Intelligence confirmed it, Physics had already shown us that we live in a world incompatible with free will. Even God, in his traditional definition, does not seem to fit into what we know about the Universe.
Cause 02: Concerns about the Future
We know that the newest generations have some fears about their future, thus making it difficult for them to adopt a positive attitude towards life. Out of the factors contributing to this, we can find two important ones:
Secondly, the possibility that climate change may reduce the quality of life on the planet in the coming decades does not give much hope for the future either , nor for the drawing up of very ambitious life plans.
Cause 03: Screens
The use of screens contributes to the degradation of our world view, mental health and encourages social isolation. For instance:
1. We know that social media, and the Internet in general, constantly expose us to news about problems and violence, creating the illusion that we live in an increasingly violent world, when the truth is the opposite.
2. We know that the use of social media causes the fear we’re not enjoying life enough, as we are constantly exposed to the positive experiences of our contacts – experiences that are highly selected, thus giving the illusion that they live the perfect life. This constant comparison causes us feelings of inadequacy.
3. We know that the use of social media leads to the unregulated production of dopamine. That when some people like what we share, we are rewarded with that hormone and that when nobody likes what we share, we get anxious and feel unwanted.
4. We know that excessive use of video games causes the degradation of personal relationships with others; and that both video games and social media can give the illusion of being an adequate substitute for friendships in the real world, thus contributing to the social isolation of their users.
5. And we know that the mental health of young people has been declining for the past 15 years. Suicide rates in the world are rising, and affect young people the most. The use of social media is consistently pointed out as one of the contributing factors.
These are 3 of the causes that have led us to our spiritual crisis. This uncomfortable state makes us desperately seek refuge for the mind. Some of these refuges are:
Refuge 01: Religion
Religion has always been the great antidote to Nihilism. But we live in an increasingly secular society, and religion has come to be seen as unpopular and old-fashioned. And as Artificial Intelligence progresses, and it becomes clearer that free will does not exist, it becomes more difficult to resort to this refuge.
This and other incompatibilities will force religions dependent on free will to modernize themselves quickly, at the risk of becoming completely irrelevant if they do not.
Refuge 02: Political Ideology
In the book ” The Unknown Self “, Carl Jung mentions that when Religion fails, it tends to resurface in a new form – that of political ideologies, being able to create the same level of religious fervor from the the masses.
The adoption of a world vision based on rigid political ideology destroys sophisticated thinking, the possibility of participating in constructive discourse, creating highly divisive climates and weakening the social fabric.
Refuge 03: Entertainment
Resorting to entertainment is a form of voluntary mental anesthesia. An anesthetized mind is preferable to a bored mind, as that allows it to forget both about everyday problems but also existential ones.
Furthermore, in a nihilistic society, entertainment allows the spectator to temporarily overcome the lack of meaning in his or her life by filling it with the sense of the protagonist’s life.
Refuge 04: Social Media
It has already been mentioned that social media leads to unregulated production of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is one of the “happiness hormones.” Its release into our brain makes us feel good at that moment – precisely what we want to feel when we are feeling depressed and nihilistic.
Big Tech companies know this, and constantly work to optimize their platforms in order to become more and more addicted to them.
Refuge 05: Consumerism
We live in a society where material goods are valued and where the pursuit of pleasure involves their acquisition. This is not surprising, since we know that consumption of material goods is an easy way to increase our levels of happiness, as long as they suit our personality. Coincidentally, products suited to our personality are precisely what the personalized advertising puts before our eyes.
Personalized Advertising, Continued
We are now ready to return to the initial question: what is the problem with receiving personalized ads? Isn’t it better to receive content that is relevant to me rather than things that don’t matter?
There’s a difference between wanting to buy something and needing to buy something. Many of us already “spend money we don’t have, to buy things we don’t need to impress people we don’t like” . This is especially true if we want to buy these products because they are taking advantage of our weaknesses, prime instincts. or negative emotions – things that big companies like Facebook know all about us.
So the problem easily boils down to four points:
- Social Media lead to Nihilism;
- Nihilism, in turn, promotes dependence on Social Media;
- Nihilism also promotes the Consumption of Products Adapted to Our Personality;
- Social Media companies earn their money by promoting Products Adapted to Our Personality.
It is a self-sustaining cycle that takes advantage of us being easily manipulated.
Even those who don’t believe that the problem is that serious, because they never bought anything online, remember two things:
First, these technology platforms are highly addictive, in order to maximize their profits. Even those who have never bought anything online are subject to their addictive nature in the same way, and to the structural changes in the brain that result from suffering from this addiction in the long-term.
And secondly, recommended advertising may not be aimed at the consumption of material goods, but rather at the consumption of entertainment, or even that of political manipulation and our view of the world.
Technology Won’t Stop Here
The two major technological steps with the greatest implications for our personal information are already foreseen. These technologies follow a logical progress of access to our information: we start in the digital world, we go to the physical world, and from the physical world we end up in our brains, the last frontier of our privacy.
With the Internet of Things , everything will be smart technology: smartphone, smartwatch, smart TV, smart fridge and smart bottle. Another way of interpreting the word smart is “device that collects information about me and sends it to the servers of a private company“.
Now regarding the idea of literally joining the machines through Brain-Computer Interfaces, it may sound like science fiction, but Elon Musk’s Neurolink (founder of Tesla, SpaceX) plans to start tests on humans as early as 2020. Facebook itself has also revealed details of its own ICC.
Are there really people who want to subject themselves to this technologies? To answer that, ask yourself: What do you value most? Your personal data or the benefits your smartphone’s apps bring you? If the benefits brought by the evolution of these two technologies are tempting enough, the real mystery will be those who do not adhere to them.
With the Internet of Things, if a part of your car breaks down, a replacement part will be ordered to the supplier, and a visit to the workshop will be scheduled both on the basis of the workshop availability and yours, all this in an automatic, convenient and convenient way.
With a BCI, our brains will literally unite with Artificial Intelligence, and we will have superhuman intelligence.
Temptations are irresistible. What do we have to give in return? All our data.
The technologies of the future will not only continue to suffer from the same problems as today, but will exacerbate them:
- As technology becomes more invasive and in possession of our information, recommendations and personalized advertising will be more relevant and effective, leaving us at the mercy of algorithms that will ultimately serve the interests of those who created them rather than ours.
- More importantly, if the influence of technology on our lives already demonstrates its ability to adversely affect our mental health, we have no reason to believe that multiplying this influence exponentially will not cause a similar increase in levels of depression and suicides.
Many say we have to have free will because the opposite would imply “being programmed robots”. Ironically, when the opportunity comes to be truly so, we will accept it with open arms.
“Once men turned their thinking on machines in the hope that this would set them free. But that only allowed other men with machines to enslave them. ” – Frank Herbert, Dune ‘
The renewal of a society is an essential process for its survival, otherwise it risks using outdated rules to solve modern challenges.
But something went wrong. Through Science and Secularism, we decided to abandon the old gods, but never realized that we were electing a new one in the process. Our new god is called Dopamine.
But this god augurs nothing good. A mouse with access to a button that stimulates the production of dopamine in its brain will click on it in perpetuity, until it dies of hunger and exhaustion. Fortunately, the human being has more self-control than a mouse, not dying after playing on the Internet interruptly for 3 days .
This is a god who has come to kill us spiritually first.
In the 1960s and 1970s, researcher John B. Calhoun, conducted an experiment known as the Rat Utopia. In it, Dr. Calhoun was able to show that building a world of abundance and comfort for a rat community always results, in a predictable way, in the degradation of society and its collapse.
John B. Calhoun summarized the reason for the collapse with these 3 phases:
- Utopia (Abundance and Comfort)
- Spiritual Death (Loss of Essential Behavioral Capacity for Species Survival)
- Physical Death (Extinction of Species)
To begin with, we must seriously question whether there is no real parallelism between the ” loss of capacity for behavior essential to the survival of the species” of rats and the behavioral trends of our modern societies.
Next, it is essential to understand that it is no coincidence that Dr. Calhoun attributed to “spiritual death” as the cause of the extinction of the rat population. The spiritual crisis in the Modern Man is not a new topic.
“We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. ” – Fight Club
I do not know how to win this spiritual war. But I know how not to win it.
Perhaps an answer can be found in the life of Carl Jung, who coincidentally wrote a book entitled ” Modern Man in Search of a Soul “. According to him, the solution to our spiritual crisis lies in what he called Individuation: the process of voluntarily confronting the repressed content of our Unconscious and integrating it into the Conscious. Not doing so results in a set of psychological pathologies that do not serve our best interests, such as neurosis, depression, anxiety, among others.
“Until the Unconscious is integrated into the Conscious, he will dictate our life, making us believe this is our destiny ” – CG Jung
Wise men of all epochs, of all regions, of all religions, and with similar or different approaches, have pointed out self-mastery as the primary objective of the human being. Jung; Nietzsche; Marcus Aurelius; Patandjali; Christ; Buddha
They all said it.
Maybe we should start to listen?
Without self-mastery, we’ll never be well with ourselves. We will continue to look for answers where they do. not. exist.
Without self-mastery, we will also be condemned to pass on our pathologies to next generations in the same way that previous generations did to us, thus perpetuating the cycle.
We’ve already seen that we can’t handle the technology we use today. What will we become when this technological influence accelerates exponentially, in the very near future?
If we feel optimistic, and believe it’s not too late, then maybe it’s time to start gaining the psychological and spiritual maturity to be able to deal collectively in a responsible, healthy and constructive way with what technology will bring us, taking advantage of the good things it brings us, avoiding falling into its traps, and thus maintaining a stable symbiosis between it, us and Nature.