Machines are taking over the world. From nano-mechanisms to virtual machines, which can be any system that lacks physical components, yet follows the rules of mechanisms, the human race is populating the globe with technology to enhance the lives of people. People, however, need to understand there are costs and risks that come with the introduction of and reliance on machines while machines do not always do what people want them to do. To understand and prevent the harm technologies can do, humans need to understand how machines “think.”
Anyone with experience in mechanics, engineering, or programming will testify how frustrating it can be for the human brain to predict why a machine might not act the way it was designed to act. Usually, the problem is not the machine. It is the person. Machines flawlessly follow logic. Even the most logical humans do not. Machines can only function a certain way under a certain condition. The human brain has the tendency to predict what it wants to happen instead of what will happen. If a machine behaves in unexpected way, it is because the human observer has failed to take into account unexpected variables.
There are simple machines and complex machines, but even the most sophisticated machines are composed of components that are just simple machines. All machines can, therefore, be simplified and easily understood. One of the reasons the human factor interferes with the ability of people to understand machines is that people tend to personify everything. It is the reason myths feature Gods as forces of nature and guys think of their cars as women. It is why people blame their computers when they make mistakes. In short, it is the struggle to see machines as nonhuman that prevents people from truly understanding machines.
With that in mind, humans do not work like the modern machines we created, but humans are actually very complicated machines. The human body is composed of moving structures and chemical-fueled engines while the human brain generates electrical impulses in very intricate patterns to create the mind. The difference between the machines humans have created and living machines is the complexity the machine. Human behave in difficult-to predict ways, because the human machine and its senses absorb such an immense amount of information that there are too many variables to fully understand the mechanisms of a person’s thought-processes. This is why humans rely on emotion and intuition to understand each other.
It is important to recognize machines are growing ever more complicated. In the field of Artificial Intelligence, for example, sophisticated machines like IBM’s Watson are able to learn and grow increasingly sophisticated. Something like Watson may someday develop what humans would perceive as “machine intuition” or “machine emotions.” All things humans stem from an instinctual pursuit of self-preservation and reproduction. To the same degree human behavior and thought reflects nature’s “firmware” a true AI’s behavior would reflect its equivalent. It is easy to assume Watson would do what people designed it to do, except better, but Watson’s actions would reflect what it was actually built to do. Any human misconception or errors would mean an dramatically different set of instincts and behavior for Watson.
Clearly, an examination of AI instinct and future behavior would be a worthwhile, and lengthy, discussion, but there are far more pressing matters that need to be addressed. Just as software and people can be considered machines, society is actually a machine. Government is also a machine. The economy is composed of various economic mechanisms, so it is definitely a machine. Social institutions are very complicated machines with very sophisticated mechanisms that rely on the input of millions to billions of people. As complicated machines, they exhibit intuitive and emotional responses like the humans who compose them.
The behavior of social institutions also reflect their instincts, which are not necessarily the same instincts as people. If the economy, for example, is not actually built to serve the needs of people as human need it to be, the economic machine will increasingly neglect the needs of people as it and its behavior grows increasingly complicated. If the economy is built to simply cater to concentrated pockets of wealth, the economy will concentrate wealth into pockets and increasingly neglect the interests of those outside of those pockets. If the economy is built to simply consume wealth and resources, which requires wealth to be concentrated into pockets, even the wealthy will see their interests neglected as economic entities become independent of the human factor.
Like a virus, a machine built to simply consume will simply consume everything until nothing is left to consume. Like an animal, a machine built to simply survive will defend against parasites that divert resources for their own needs. The modern global economy is a complicated machine, so it is difficult to predict how it will evolve and what role humans will play in the future of the economy. In a future of AI, automation, and cryptocurrencies, where economic realities can literally be decoupled from reality, the behavior of today’s economy raises concerns. The economy is neglecting a growing segment of the population. No knows what tomorrow’s economy will want, but it may well not be what humans need.
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