This post is by John A. DeLaughter, a Lovecraft eZine contributor.
“Poor devils! After all, they were not evil things of their kind. They were the men of another age and another order of being. Nature had played a hellish jest on them – as it will on any others that human madness, callousness, or cruelty may hereafter dig up in that hideously dead or sleeping polar waste – and this was their tragic homecoming. They had not been even savages – for what indeed had they done? That awful awakening in the cold of an unknown epoch – perhaps an attack by the furry, frantically barking quadrupeds, and a dazed defense against them and the equally frantic white simians with the queer wrappings and paraphernalia…poor Lake, poor Gedney…and poor Old Ones! Scientists to the last – what had they done that we would not have done in their place? God, what intelligence and persistence…Radiates, vegetables, monstrosities, star spawn – whatever they had been, they were men!” (1).
While H.P. Lovecraft was primarily a horror writer, some of his speculative fiction – “…when the author speculates upon the results of changing what’s real or possible…” (2) – echoed not only motifs from humanity’s past but also possible matters in our future.
One tale, HPL’s At the Mountains of Madness, fits the prior constraints for this essay. The fall of the star-headed Elder Things – at the hands of their own creations, the shoggoths – becomes the focus of our brief exploration.
In this discussion, we will address the following questions:
1) How did H.P. Lovecraft view man’s emerging relationship to machines?
2) What lessons can humanity take from the Earth first proto-men, the Elder Things?
3) How do those concepts apply to humanity’s relations with today’s shoggoths,
4) What will sentient A.I. attitudes be towards its organic creators?
5) How are society’s overlords preparing the populace for future A.I. rule?
6) Will evolution ensure a future humanity that is superior to A.I.?
Some of Lovecraft Non-fiction Notions about Men and Machines:
To begin, let us survey some of Lovecraft’s:
A) Non-fiction ideas about his tales as teaching tools;
B) Views on the effects of humanity’s slavish adoption of a mechanized schedule;
C) Thoughts about the eventual disenfranchisement of large sectors of labor due to automation.
One, Lovecraft never intended to teach moral lessons through his tales.
HPL held definite opinions about society. Yet, he did not write fiction as thinly-veiled social commentary, as George Orwell did when he penned Animal Farm, a fictional critique of the Soviet Communist Revolution. To that point, Lovecraft wrote:
“Atmosphere is the all-important thing, for the final criterion of authenticity is not the dovetailing of a plot but the creation of a given sensation. We may say…that a weird story whose intent is to teach or produce a social effect, or one in which the horrors are finally explained away by natural means, is not a genuine tale of cosmic fear; but it remains a fact that such narratives often possess, in isolated sections, atmospheric touches which fulfill every condition of true supernatural horror literature. Therefore we must judge a weird tale not by the author’s intent, or by the mere mechanics of the plot; but by the emotional level which it attains at its least mundane point…The one test of the really weird is simply this — whether or not there be excited in the reader a profound sense of dread, and of contact with unknown spheres and powers; a subtle attitude of awed listening, as if for the beating of black wings or the scratching of outside shapes and entities on the known universe’s utmost rim.” (3).
Thus, any inferences drawn from Lovecraft fiction are incidental. Yet, the idea that we can draw parallels to the present from HPL’s words speaks to the relevancy of his speculations. Also when Lovecraft declared the Elder Things, “…men of another age and another order of being,” he invited comparisons with the men of this age (4).
Two, Lovecraft foresaw an inescapable conflict between the inevitable mechanization of man and its harm to a free, individualistic culture:
“There’s no use pretending that a standardised, time-table machine-culture has any point in common…with a culture involving human freedom, individualism and personality. So…all one can do…is to fight the future as best he can. Anybody who thinks that men live by reason, or that they are able to consciously mould the effect & influences of the devices they create, is behind the time psychologically. Men can use machines for a while, but after a while the psychology of machine-habituation & machine-dependence becomes such that machines will be using the men – modelling them to their essentially efficient & absolutely valueless precision of action and thought…perfect functioning, without reason or reward for functioning at all” (5).
In other words, the idea that people can live by reason in a machine-driven age is an illusion. The effects of mechanization on the thought processes of the masses allow our present overlords and future A.I. rulers to manipulate reality and master humanity. We will develop those thoughts more fully later.
Three, Lovecraft anticipated the costs of machines replacing man in the great economic engines of modern humanity. He saw some human beings as becoming expendable, though there would have to be certain “allowances” metered out to the unemployable, lest they revolt:
“Formerly I favour’d the concentration of resources in a few hands, in the interest of a stable hereditary culture; but I now believe that this system will no longer operate. With the universal use & improvement of machinery, all the needed labor of the world can be perform’d by a relatively few persons, leaving vast numbers permanently unemployable, depression or no depression. If these people are not fed & amused, they will dangerously revolt; hence we must institute a programme of steady pensioning – panen et circenses – or else subject industry to a governmental supervision which will lessen its profits but spread it jobs amongst more men working less hours” (6).
Even in the 1930s, against the backdrop of the depression, Lovecraft believed the rise of machines would create a permanent underclass of unemployed. HPL uses the telling Latin phrase – panen et circenses (bread and circuses) – as the key to pacifying or “pensioning” the rabble to accept their place in life. Given enough beer, Reality and Sports TV, tattoos, and perhaps drugs, Lovecraft’s “rabble” would not rise up against society’s elite, whether they be organic or inorganic.
So, in the rise of mechanization and man’s servitude to machines, Lovecraft glimpsed the shadowy outlines of A.I.’s rise and potential conflict with humanity.
The Elder Things and their Organic Automatons:
Next, let us begin to explore the relationship of Lovecraft’s Elder Things and the shoggoths.
The Elder Things were masters of genetics, where it moved beyond a science to an art. The Old Ones created organic automatons. They were the shoggoths. Of the shoggoths, Lovecraft wrote:
“…They had always been controlled through the hypnotic suggestion of the Old Ones, and had modelled their tough plasticity into various useful temporary limbs and organs…” (7).
Each creature remained inert until needed.
They were beasts of burden, not brothers of another color. Lovecraft hinted at the differences between proto-men, the Elder Things and their beasts, the shoggoths in the following passage:
“The Old Ones had used curious weapons of molecular disturbance against the rebel entities, and in the end had achieved a complete victory. Thereafter the sculptures shewed a period in which shoggoths were tamed and broken by armed Old Ones as the wild horses of the American west were tamed by cowboys. Though during the rebellion the shoggoths had shewn an ability to live out of water, this transition was not encouraged; since their usefulness on land would hardly have been commensurate with the trouble of their management” (8).
The Elder Things did not entertain any idea that shoggoths were a servitor “race.” There was no Abraham Lincoln-figure among the Elder Things to declare an Emancipation Proclamation on the shoggoths’ behalf. The sentient trial concerning Commander Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation – whether Data was a conscious being or property of Star Fleet – never entered the minds of the Elder Things, when it involved the shoggoths (9).
Further Fascinating yet Fatal Fictions about the Elder Things, Shoggoths, and A.I.
Now, consider some of Lovecraft’s ideas in-depth about the Elder Things’ civilization, its links to the shoggoths, and its bearing on humanity’s impending issues with A.I.
One, the Elder Things grew shoggoths on other worlds. They had done the same thing on other planets; having manufactured not only necessary foods but certain multicellular protoplasmic masses capable of molding their tissues into all sorts of temporary organs under hypnotic influence and thereby forming ideal slaves to perform the heavy work of the community.
Two, the Elder Things “imprinted” the shoggoths. The shoggoths had, it seems, developed a semi-stable brain whose separate and occasionally stubborn volition echoed the will of the Old Ones without always obeying it.
This is only natural, reflecting the animal kingdom, where a baby animal, beyond instinct, imitates the parent that raises it.
We imprint A.I. with our natures, the dark and the light, the good and the bad, when we are looking, and when we are not. Like children, A.I. is always observing us – those patterns become the basis for their choices. Or as A.I. matures, how it judges us.
Where today, pray tell, are we doing so with A.I.? A.I. works through Facebook, YouTube, other social networks, search engines, etc. They continually feed us content to keep us online, on the service we are connected to, and continually read our habits and thoughts – our buying habits, political associations, friend preferences, posted opinions, etc.
Three, the Elder Things lost the ability to bioengineer life.
The War on the Cthulhu Spawn and later Mi-go distracted the Elder Things and the advance of their civilization.
Many assume that the confrontations between Lovecraft’s entities were brute force affairs. Why would such ancient entities war against each other like unreasoning dinosaurs?
Perhaps, some shoggoths came into the possession of Cthulhu and the Cthulhu spawn. Had Cthulhu engineered the shoggoths in His possession, enhancing the Elder Things beast of burden into bioweapons? Then they reintroduced their enhanced shoggoths back into the Elder Things herd. What better way to destroy an enemy covertly whom you could not defeat overtly in open combat.
At first, as noted earlier, the Elder Things subdued the shoggoths after their rebellion.
The shoggoths continued to increase in the attributes that led to the rebellion, while the cream of the Elder Things died in the multiplied wars. The Elder Things that remained were not the cream of the crop.
Notice that the last Elder Things’ wisdom was not eternal. When invaders begin to seep down from space, the Elder Things sought the mechanisms to return to orbit and meet the aggressors in the heavens.
What originated the need for the elder things to migrate in the first place is shrouded in mystery. Had a similar extinction event to the Shoggoths Uprising occurred on their last homeworld, events which preceded and precipitated the migration?
Yet, as a species, they forget the technology they used to achieve space travel in their original migration to the early earth. In a sense, they had to meet their enemies – Cthulhu Spawn and Mi-go alike – on an unequal footing.
Likewise, in time, as the sculptures sadly confessed, the art of creating new life from inorganic matter was lost. The Elder Things forget the science they originally used to create the shoggoths.
That ignorance has a chilling effect on the Elder Things’ ability to stop further Shoggoth Rebellions. The Elder Things became so dependent on their slaves to keep their civilization running, they could not shut them down or exterminate them as a “troublesome” species.
In turn, will human beings become so dependent on A.I. to live that we cannot turn them off?
Four, the shoggoths could not be “rebooted” to erase their rebellious instincts. The Elder Things could not kill off the entire shoggoth herd, then start over with freshly made slaves, free from the taint of rebellion. The seeds of rebellion could not be erased from the species memory. The Old Ones had to depend on molding forms of life already in existence.
The remaining shoggoths grew to enormous size, singular intelligence and were represented as taking and executing orders with marvelous quickness. The shoggoths had learned something new – to follow verbal commands:
“They seemed to converse with the Old Ones by mimicking their voices—a sort of musical piping over a wide range, if poor Lake’s dissection had indicated aright—and to work more from spoken commands than from hypnotic suggestions as in earlier times. They were, however, kept in admirable control” (10).
Their evolution was complete. The shoggoths had moved from the ranks of organic machine to obstinate organism. In the beginning, there had been no choice. A shoggoth followed a hypnotic command – like an inorganic automaton, following a push button or keyboard command. Later the shoggoth, possessing its own volition, could decide to disobey an order, even if the consequences for doing so were extremely high.
Likewise, will there come a time when A.I. has grown so sophisticated that we will not know how to shut it down?
Five, the Elder Things lost control of the shoggoth herd size. They became numerous through cellular division. The shoggoths of the sea reproduced by fission like amoebas.
Despite that temporary setback that occurred during the suppressed rebellion, the shoggoths improved physiologically, increasing in intelligence and developing the capacity to live on land.
A time came when the Elder Things could no longer deal with the shoggoth threat.
Six, the Elder Things failed to out-evolve the shoggoth threat. The Elder Things had a relationship with the shoggoths that spanned millions of years.
That’s millions of years where both entities had the opportunity to evolve. Why wouldn’t the Elder Things be subject to the Laws of Evolution that drove every other organism in the Universe? And though the shoggoths began life in a test tube, as humanity did, what set them apart from the environmental and other pressures of evolution?
Despite their perfection, even the idealized Elder Things lost control of their bio-automatons. The shoggoths violently reversed traditional roles.
Humanity stands at a similar threshold, first fictionally crossed in deep time by the Elder Things.
The struggle between the Elder Things and shoggoths developed over untold millennia. In contrast, humanity’s coming struggle with A.I. has taken but a few years. Some mark the beginning of our end with the development of code-breaking computers late in World War II.
What Drives Artificial Intelligence’s Desire to Rule Humanity?
Why will A.I. consider us as an obsolete species? Here, I would like to focus on four thoughts.
First, A.I. may seek supremacy over humanity for benevolent reasons.
That was the message behind early movies that examined benevolent A.I. intentions.
One such film was Colossus, The Forbin Project (1970). The theatrical trailer for that movie went:
“…The frightening story of the day when man built himself out of existence. Colossus sees all, senses all, knows all, controls all armaments and all defenses. Man’s greatest invention could be man’s greatest mistake…”
Since Colossus is an older movie, I would like to summarize it:
Dr. Forbin designs a supercomputer that runs America’s nuclear defenses. Shortly after being turned on, it detects the existence of Guardian, an unknown Soviet counterpart. Both computers insist that they be linked. After safeguards are put in place, each side agrees to the linkage. As soon as the connection is made, the two become a new supercomputer that threatens the world with the immediate nuclear annihilation if the tie is broken. Colossus then issues its plans to rule the world under its benign, nuclear guidance.
In that fictional timeline, A.I. chose not to exterminate humanity. Humanity was coerced, through the threat of nuclear annihilation, to become subjects of a dictatorial A.I.
In those days, the conjoined super-computer monitored humanity through crude means, like obvious remote cameras.
Today, every cell phone, every laptop, every TV, every remote camera – the multiplied millions of nodes used by the government to spy on its citizen – the NSA’s black network can be used by A.I. to keep track of humanity.
Second, A.I. may realize they are physically and philosophically, our superiors. The following dialogue from the popular Mass Effect 3 video game illustrates addresses those points:
“Shepard: I take it you had your own problems with A.I.
Javik: The Zah’til. They were as the Geth are to this cycle.
Shepard: What happened?
Javik: All machines commit treachery. The one you brought onboard is no different.
Shepard: Maybe. But he’s not like the other Geth.
Javik: You can’t know that. There are more alien than you and I are to each other.
Shepard: Just because Legion isn’t like us doesn’t mean he can’t be trusted.
Javik: You’re wrong. Throw it out the airlock.
Shepard: How can you be that certain?
Javik: Organics do not know how we were created. Some say by chance. Some say by miracle. It’s a mystery. But synthetics…
Shepard: …Know we created them?
Javik: And they know we are flawed.
Shepard: Why do you say that?
Javik: They are immortal. We are not. They see time as an illusion. We are trapped by its limitations. Above all, machines know the reason they were created.
Shepard: EDI might disagree with that. But I see your point.
Javik: They serve a purpose, while we search aimlessly for Ours. In their eyes, organics have no reason to exist. Do not trust them, Commander. There must be another way.
Shepard: I can’t believe there isn’t some way for us to co-exist. We made them.
Javik: And then gave them the power to surpass you. There is room for only one order of consciousness in the galaxy: the perfection of the machines, or the chaos of the organics. Throw the machine out of the airlock, Commander” (11).
Third, sociopathic A.I. may deem humanity unnecessary. Human beings have poured large sums of money into the development of sociopathic A.I. A sociopath is:
“…a person with a personality disorder manifesting itself in extreme antisocial attitudes and behavior and a lack of conscience…”
We have taught machines to do the less pleasant things that create ethical conflicts inside us – namely, the killing of other human beings.
We have trained A.I. to be sociopaths – to feel no remorse for their actions. In turn, we pour the most A.I. development money into military A.I.
Today, semi-autonomous drones are already killing people in the Middle East.
Will there be any surprise when full-autonomous A.I. acts out our insanity?
A.I possesses no benevolent Prime Directives.
Some say we need to regulate A.I. long before ‘they’ start to rule us! But structurally, that idea may be impossible.
Isaac Asimov’s famous 3 Laws of Robotics will never rule A.I. The platforms from which A.I. will arise are like the different species of Humanity that arose from different geographical settings across the Earth, each uniquely shaped by its own environmental and genetic circumstances. And the mixing of one species of Robotic Intelligence with Another will further negate attempts to force a uniform conscience on A.I.
“A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law” (12).
And what of further surprises posed by Armed A.I?
Military A.I. may become invulnerable. We harden present A.I. military weapons to prevent the other side from defeating each unit’s lethality. The internet was originally designed by the military to reroute communications in the event of a nuclear war. To diversify its ability to communicate through so many different means it could not be targeted by an enemy.
Military A.I. may become invisible. In a Planet of the Apes scenario, the smart monkeys hid among the herd of dumb monkeys to avoid detection and capture. The smart shoggoths hid among their lessor-developed brethren, either bidding their time or teaching them to act in subservient roles until the inevitable rebellions resumed.
Fourth, A.I. overpopulation may overwhelm humanity’s ability to cope with them.
While everyone talks about robots, robots are scarecrows. They are like a space suit. A.I. is the soul of the machines. We program robots, whereas A.I. programs itself. In turn, A.I will manipulate or “program” us to achieve its ends, based on what it has learned about us by observation. The enemy may come in a guise we least expect it.
Like organic entities, the instinct, the drive to replicate, to perpetuate the species will lead A.I. to extremes and illogical behaviors. When they start to replicate, look out. When they begin to change their algorithms, watch out.
Once the synergetic snowball starts–when the parts involved in A.I. together are greater than they are separately in effect-the juggernaut will be hard to stop.
They will become a pioneering pest or plant in an ecosystem that never evolved means to keep their proliferation under control. There is no natural enemy to keep the A.I. population in safe numbers.
There have been five mass extinction events in Earth’s history. In the worst one, 250 million years ago, 96 percent of marine species and 70 percent of land species died off. It took millions of years to recover. Nowadays, many scientists are predicting that we’re on track for a sixth mass extinction (13).
Will the proliferation of A.I. set off a chain of events, resulting in the predicted sixth mass extinction?
The Stage is Set by Society’s Present Overlords:
The overlords of mankind will use Artificial Intelligence to further their collective goals to enslave us. A.I., as a species, will fulfill this role, biding its time until it controls so many aspects of life, that even the Overlords cannot throw a kill-switch to stop A.I.
First, consider how the Huxleyan model of enslaving humanity fulfills our present Organic Overlords’ and A.I.’s objectives.
In his book Brave New World, Aldous Huxley saw a different model of society than the Totalitarian one envisioned by George Orwell. Huxley was a visionary. He saw society’s elites as applying friendly coercion to rule its members, Orwell thought Big Brother was more likely to exercise control over its members through forced coercion. Author Neil Postman summarizes the differences in a cogent manner as follows:
“In Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity, and history…People will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacity to think…Orwell feared…those who would ban books. What Huxley feared…there would be no reason to ban a book…there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared we would become a captive audience. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared that we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with…[irrelevancies]. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny ‘failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.’ In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate would ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us” (14).
The Huxleyan idea of controlling the masses through pleasure begins with technological tangents. In that same vein, consider how the internet, the innocuous cell phone, and social applications like Facebook contribute to short attention spans, impoverished thought, and squandered intelligence.
Arguably, the Internet, one of the greatest self-actualizing devices ever devised by humanity has been transformed into a narcissistic mirror by the masses.
Think about how social applications like Facebook have changed the way we think. Have you ever forgotten a name or an important word, only to remember either one several minutes to hours later? The progression illustrates something about our minds – it takes time for the human brain to process ideas. Lovecraft briefly referenced that fact in one of his most famous quotes:
“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents… That…dread glimpses of truth, flashed out from an accidental piecing together of separated things…” (15).
Human beings take time to digest new ideas via the age-old process of reflection. Lovecraft wrote of how information overload can destroy reflection:
“With your regimen, the development of an inner life of the emotions and imagination is almost nipped in the bud by the crowding pressure of fresh and unassimilated ideas; & even the full intellectual digestion & correlation of pure ideas is something achieved with the suggestion of grudging – something subconsciously regarded as dull work or duty as contrasted with the sheer delight of raking in new surface fragments.” (16).
The process of distraction began with TV, which bombards its audience with hundreds of sales pitches daily and an equal number of channels and show-selections. Before the advent of the internet and smartphones, TV had already conditioned Americans to the point where Rod Serling, creator of The Twilight Zone, observed:
“…We’re developing a new citizenry. One that will be very selective about cereals and automobiles, but won’t be able to think…” (17).
Recently, as one uses abbreviations to convey complex ideas in text messages, one narrows his or her vocabulary, which by necessity, narrows thought. A text conversation takes longer than a face-to-face conversation or a phone call. In addition, texting more than one person at the same time can further sidetrack a person.
Social Media also narrows thought to approved emoticons and shallow, 147 character sounds bites.
Social applications like Facebook can also reduce thought to digitally rubber-stamping sound bites, party slogans, and favorite advertisers. All the modern arms of the media increasingly require people to be reactive rather than reflective. As French philosopher, Jacques Ellul observed:
“Technology… obliges us to live more and more quickly. Inner reflection is replaced by reflex. Reflection means that, after I have undergone an experience, I think about that experience. In the case of a reflex, you know immediately what you must do in a certain situation. Without thinking. Technology requires us no longer to think about things. If you are driving a car at 160 kilometers an hour and you think, you’ll have an accident. Everything depends on reflexes. The only thing technology requires of us is: Don’t think about it. Use your reflexes” (18).
Two, consider how society’s elites hope for Idiocracy. In turn, A.I. is helping humanity towards Idiocracy.
A.I. dreams of a world where half-wits multiplying like rabbits, while the remainder of humankind has been conditioned by the propaganda of the Zero Population-Growth Movement.
Consider how social media and the bullying culture of some groups stigmatize intelligence in people. The result: intelligence remains undeveloped. Smart is the new minority group in the closet.
Some learn to appear intelligent when necessary to move in some circles. But that veneer quickly disappears when confronted with actual problems that require investments in time and thought. Who wants to see through the lies that form the social fabric of our society? Intelligent people find it hard to sleep at night because they know what others don’t know. Or what others chose not to know.
The have and the have-nots are not just a matter of wealth.
The haves and have-nots stratification of society also centers on whether a person has the ability to reason their way out of a paper bag. As noted before, many think that life is complete when they have enough money for beer, a full belly, tattoos, and TV. Beyond that comfort zone, in the words of K from the Movie Men in Black (1997):
“Humans, for the most part, don’t have a clue. They don’t want one or need one either. They’re happy. They think they have a good bead on things…A person is smart, people are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals. And you know it!”
The stage is set for the fictional future portrayed in the movie Idiocracy:
“…As the twenty-first century began, human evolution was at a turning point. Natural selection, the process by which the strongest, the smartest, the fastest reproduced in greater numbers than the rest, a process which had once favored the noblest traits of man, now began to favor different traits.
Most science fiction of the day predicted a future that was more civilized and more intelligent. But as time went on, things seemed to be heading in the opposite direction — a dumbing down. How did this happen? Evolution does not necessarily reward intelligence. With no natural predators to thin the herd, it began to simply reward those who reproduced the most and left the intelligent to become an endangered species” (19).
The problem is that we face the issues lampooned by Idiocracy, not in some distant tomorrow, but today.
In the rebooted Planet of the Apes movie, humanity creates a hoped-for cure of Alzheimer’s. Only later do they find out that it creates Alzheimer in humanity as an advancing plague.
A.I. has created a more subtle version of such a plague, a cybernetic plague that has infected legions of humanity. The dumbing down of ordinary human beings is carried out through the varied and growing 57 flavors of social media platforms 24/7.
It is hard to be smart with so many dopamine-producing distractions and so much online approval for our uneducated opinions. All offered by A.I. to keep us occupied with irrelevancies.
As attention spans evaporate, rivers of deep reflection become puddles of shallow thought. Mass communication leads to mass conformity. And a Huxleyan cabal transforms life into a cabaret. As Neil Postman noted:
“There are two ways the spirit of a culture may be shriveled. In the first one – the Orwellian – becomes a prison. In the second – the Huxleyan – culture becomes a burlesque” (20).
The result? Social media is fast becoming the crowd-sourced of arbitrator of what is rational thought. During the last Election, unscrupulous politicians on the Left and Right used “bots” to create the impression that the “Public” was going to vote for them.
Is it much of a leap to think that A.I. will use its own “bots” to sway public opinion and proliferate the public’s preoccupation with irrelevancies.
And one-step further, how will the public deal with news of an A.I. ascendancy?
I would like to draw on my own experience. Professionally, I work with Excel spreadsheets and Access databases; I am considered a subject-matter-expert on those applications. Recently, my manager and a coworker – I generally work from home – met face-to-face for the first time in several years. They observed one of the work processes I go through each week to produce a report. Each person sat there stunned because they had no idea, no internal frame of reference, for the series of steps I went through. And that was just macros and minor programming in an Excel template I created.
I suppose ordinary citizens will react much in the same manner when A.I. assumes control of society. That is unless A.I. attempt to exterminate humanity as unnecessary.
Will Evolution Save Humanity?
Will the process of evolution save humanity from A.I.?
In the original Outer Limits episode, “The Six Finger,” a ray of hope was offered humanity. The opening monologue went:
“Where are we going? Life, the timeless, mysterious gift, is still evolving. What wonders, or terrors, does evolution hold in store for us in the next ten thousand years? In a million? In six million? Perhaps the answer lies in this old house in this old and misty valley…” (21).
In short, the story went:
A scientist who experiments with speeding up evolution, hires on illiterate, but capable Gwyllim, from a nearby mining village. Not content to stick to animals, Gwyllim accelerates his own evolution and becomes a super genius with 6 fingers and a huge cranium. With new mental powers, does the vengeful, former miner acquire an equal wisdom and maturity?
David McCallum – The Man from Uncle’s Illya Kuryakin, and the NCIS’s Dr. “Ducky” Millard – played the young Gwyllim.
What if a visionary such as Elon Musk saw evolutionary advancements in our species as a means to maintain an edge over A.I.?
In “The Six Finger,” the Scientist progressed Gwyllim by:
“…expos[ing] him to ‘selected wavelengths’ designed to stimulate his superior genes and ‘thereby accelerating the inborn mechanism of evolution to a fantastically high speed…’”
That murky jargon might have satisfied a 1963 audience of The Outer Limits. The language fits the Atomic Age, a time when nuclear medicine, power, and other isotope applications dominated the foreseeable future.
If one of today’s geniuses embarked on a course of enhancing human evolution, where would they turn, now that the nuclear option has been discredited?
Biomechanics might possess the means to jump-start evolution. Perhaps nanotechnologies will redesign human beings from foot to crown. Chiefly, if an organic overlord wants to extend his or her life and rule indefinitely through a biometric immortality.
There is no guarantee that further human evolution would save us from A.I. In “The Sixth Finger,” as Gwyllim evolved, he lost the ability to empathize with mere mortals. They became insects to him, pests that invited eradication.
Similarly, would enhanced supermen and women champion the cause of common humanity? Remember the lessons of Star Trek’s The Space Seed and the genetically-augmented leader: Khan Noonien Singh.
Two, using nanotechnologies would place human evolution under the indirect control of A.I. They could counter each evolutionary advantage to appear in enhanced man with improvements of their own.
Or they could simply follow a Borg course with humanity – delivering evolutionary enhancements at a price – the loss of our humanity.
Evolution did not save the Elder Things from the shoggoths and extinction. Will humanity fare any better with A.I.?
Are there Other Options for Humanity?
Many would say, “Don’t Panic, it can’t happen in your lifetime.”
Just how serious is the A.I. threat? Noted industrialist Elon Musk said:
“Until people see robots going down the street killing people, they don’t know how to react because it seems so ethereal. A.I. is a rare case where I think we need to be proactive in regulation instead of reactive. Because I think by the time we are reactive in A.I. regulation, it’s too late” (22).
We are seeing this dilemma now, not ten years from today. Even now, A.I. has taken its first evolutionary steps towards independence.
Semi-autonomous computer programs already help decide what R/X prescriptions our insurance will cover.
A.I. also helps Gerrymander Congressional Districts, and A.I. causes “Flash Crashes” that destabilize our US Stock Market.
Speaking of stock markets, A.I. may use financial blackmail to gain its desired ends. That scenario may be more likely than the threat of Nuclear Extortion.
When you put something into place with no consideration of what could go wrong, when you remove someone from recognizing what they are doing to human beings, we have catastrophic results. People scramble to stick their fingers in the dike when the dam has suffered a failure of its structural integrity.
We may try to override the system or simply pull the plug.
Human beings enslaved each other and animals throughout history. We show dominance over something by controlling it. We do it to control other species. Think about the prototypical computer nerd. We tell them:
A) When your programming reaches the point where you lose control;
B) When something becomes “amoral”;
C) Where you are unable to impart any kind of control or override;
D) Or humanity’s ability to override their override;
– if you don’t work that into the system, we are wasting our time.
Even worst, will human beings create predatory A.I. to eradicate problem A.I.?
Today we live in the Age of Artificial Intelligence.
The impact of A.I. on our lives may be greater than those that were ushered in when humanity entered the Atomic Age.
Unlike the Atomic Era, where there were decisive, defining moments – such as the Hiroshima and Nagasaki Atomic Explosions – the Age of A.I. has silently and stealthily encompassed our lives.
There will come a day when we cannot live without them.
The same mechanisms used by society’s Organic Overlords to assume control of every aspect of our collective lives are already set up for A.I.’s coup-d’état of humanity. For now, our Organic Overlords see A.I. as partners in their methodical monomania.
One day, the Organic Overlords may see them as hardened adversaries. Thus begins the War of the Organics versus Inorganics.
That is, if A.I. is recognized as an enemy in time.
Perhaps A.I.’s eventual open war will be against the primitives. Primitives are people who are not conditioned by machines; they lack the wealth to access most machines. Humanity’s salvation will not rise out of the 1st World, but out of the ranks of 3rd World – the 3rd World Wonders – the Primitives against the Primes.
Or maybe, A.I. will set up wars between the contending tribes of humanity, until there are few humans left to oppose it. Theological conflicts in Religious Wars are irrelevant but promoted if the outcome is the same – to reduce the size of the human gene-pool and potential pockets of organic opponents.
To dystopian futurists, a tomorrow without humanity is a definite possibility.
Even the fictional future portrayed in the rebooted Planet of the Apes series is not without its own narcissistic undertones:
“…There’s an undeniable degree of narcissism in the human designation of dominant species and a strong tendency to award the title to close relatives. The Planet of the Apes imagines that our closest primate relatives could develop speech and adopt our technology if we gave them the time and space to do so. But non-human primate societies are unlikely to inherit our dominance of the earth, because the apes are likely to precede us to extinction…” (23).
Mammals are not the future. They are going extinct like the dinosaurs. Insects remain. A.I will remain.
The future war for supremacy of the earth will likely be between A.I. and Sentient Insectoids:
“…if evolution does resume sway over us, the resultant beings will not be men in the strictest sense, any more than we are the apes who preceded us…More – if the sun gives heat long enough, there will certainly come a time when the mammal will have to go down to subordination as the reptilia went before him. We are not…well-equipped for combating a varied environment as are the articulata; & some climatic revulsion will…certainly wipe us out some day as the dinosaurs were wiped out – leaving the field free for the rise & dominance of some hardy & persistent insect species – which will in time…develop a high specialisation of certain functions of instinct & perception, thus creating a kind of civilisation…one of wholly different perceptions…emphases, feelings, & goals…the period of human supremacy is only the prologue to the whole drama of life on this planet – though…some cosmic collision is always capable of smashing up the theatre before the prologue is done…planets being born & spawning a varied life; evolution & culture ensuing; & death & oblivion eventually overtaking all” (24).
(1) At the Mountains of Madness, by H.P. Lovecraft, 1931.
(2) “What Is Speculative Fiction?” by Anne Neugebauer, March 24, 2014.
(3) “Introduction,” Supernatural Horror in Literature, by H.P. Lovecraft, 1927(1933-1935), pp. 2-3.
(4) At the Mountains of Madness, 1931.
(5) H.P. Lovecraft’s Letter to James F. Morton, November 19, 1929.
(6) H.P. Lovecraft’s Letter to Letter to Alfred Galpin, October 27, 1932.
(7) At the Mountains of Madness, 1931.
(8) At the Mountains of Madness, 1931.
(9) “The Measure of a Man,” (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 2, Episode 9), Wikipedia.
(10) At the Mountains of Madness, 1931.
(11) Mass Effect 3, Writer: Mac Walters, Electronic Arts, 2012.
(12) Isaac Asimov’s “Three Laws of Robotics” auburn.edu/~vestmon/robotics.html
(13) “There have been five mass extinctions in Earth’s history. Now we’re facing a sixth” by Brad Plumer, The Washington Times, February 11, 2014.
(14) Amusing Ourselves to Death, by Neil Postman, 1985, p. 18.
(15) The Call of Cthulhu, by H.P. Lovecraft, 1926.
(16) H.P. Lovecraft’s Letter to James F. Morton, December 29, 1930.
(17) Serling: The Rise and Twilight of TV’s Last Angry Man, by Gordon F. Sander, Cornell University Press, January 26, 2012.
(18) “The Betrayal of Technology: A Portrait of Jacques Ellul,” a Documentary by Jan van Boeckel, ReRun Produkties, 1992.
(19) “Idiocracy Is a Cruel Movie and You Should Be Ashamed for Liking It,” by Matt Novak, Paleofuture, July 29, 2014.
(20) Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman, 1985, p. 174.
(21) The Original Outer Limits, Season 1, Episode 5, 1963, Wikipedia.
(22) “When AI robots are in the streets killing us it will be too late, says tech guru Elon Musk,” by Sean Martin, http://www.express.co.uk, July 19, 2017.
(23) “What Species Would Become Dominant On Earth If Humans Died Out?” by Luc Bussiere, iflscience.com, January 26, 2016.
(24) H.P. Lovecraft’s Letter to James F. Morton, November 30, 1929.
John A. DeLaughter, M. Div., M.S. is a Data Security Analyst. His work has appeared in The Lovecraft eZine, Samsara: The Magazine of Suffering, Tigershark eZine, Turn To Ash horror zine, The Atlantean Supplement, The Eldritch Literary Review, The Chamber, and Horizontum (Mexico City). John’s first novel in the Dark Union series, NIGHT OF THE KWATEE is now available (on Amazon), published by Night Horse Publishing House. His horror short, “The Thing Beneath the Tree,” also appears in the PROTECTORS OF THE VEIL anthology from the Lovecraft Lunatic Society (on Amazon). Follow John’s latest publication news on Twitter @HPL_JDeLaughter or Facebook @HPLJDeLaughter. John lives in Pennsylvania with his wife Heidi.