AI Devouring Human Culture03-25-2023
Yuval Harari offers another, more dismal, take on the rise of AI. We need to learn to master AI before it masters us. Harari calls upon world leaders to rise to the challenge of AI: to master it and make it useful for us, while limiting its capabilities to destroy the humanity that gave it life. Harari sees the real danger from AI in its ability to consume our human culture.
The specter of A.I. has haunted humanity since the mid-20th century, yet until recently it has remained a distant prospect, something that belongs in sci-fi more than in serious scientific and political debates. It is difficult for our human minds to grasp the new capabilities of GPT-4 and similar tools, and it is even harder to grasp the exponential speed at which these tools are developing more advanced and powerful capabilities. But most of the key skills boil down to one thing: the ability to manipulate and generate language, whether with words, sounds or images.
In the beginning was the word. Language is the operating system of human culture. From language emerges myth and law, gods and money, art and science, friendships and nations and computer code. A.I.’s new mastery of language means it can now hack and manipulate the operating system of civilization. By gaining mastery of language, A.I. is seizing the master key to civilization, from bank vaults to holy sepulchers.
What would it mean for humans to live in a world where a large percentage of stories, melodies, images, laws, policies and tools are shaped by nonhuman intelligence, which knows how to exploit with superhuman efficiency the weaknesses, biases and addictions of the human mind — while knowing how to form intimate relationships with human beings? In games like chess, no human can hope to beat a computer. What happens when the same thing occurs in art, politics or religion?
A.I. could rapidly eat the whole of human culture — everything we have produced over thousands of years — digest it and begin to gush out a flood of new cultural artifacts. Not just school essays but also political speeches, ideological manifestos, holy books for new cults. By 2028, the U.S. presidential race might no longer be run by humans.