FRANZOBEL: We’re going gaga


The new world is devoid of humour. People are being axed left, right and centre. Replacing real people with self-driving buses, fully automated supermarket checkouts and airline phone lines is like a lottery win. And now artificial intelligence? Soon, machines will be able to do everything, even generate deceptively authentic articles. Does this mean the end of all certainty? The end of all jobs?

Being sceptical of progress is as old as humanity itself. There were doubters way back when the wheel was invented. And with good reason: people are rarely willing to use progress for the greater good. Efficiency always comes at the expense of humanity. AI also isn’t capable of being creative. It can predict weather phenomena and share prices and copy art styles, but it can’t yet create something genuinely new. It doesn’t create new experiences but rather figures out probabilities. AI doesn’t understand humour, but it is much more intelligent than us.

Let’s suppose for a moment that it’s employed by large organisations. There is already what’s called the grandchild trick: crooks masquerade on the phone as a relative in need who requires money urgently. What would happen if something like this were aided by AI? It’s enough when it wants to flog you something, using our responses to decipher what we’re looking for. We would be at its mercy, unable to work out whether we’re dealing with a man or a machine.

The internet is a democratic medium. In theory, the free availability of information should make people more intelligent, but the opposite is happening. The average intelligence of industrial nations is declining. Why? Because everything’s about attention and clicks? Fake news, click farms, influencers… plus the general readiness to be distracted by nonsense. We’re going gaga!

AI will accelerate this. Soon, it will provide good conversation. But music you can sense the soul of the artist in? Art that asks the major questions of our time? Genuine feelings? Why not? AI’s ability to learn is so incredible that it will soon be writing good books and producing blockbuster films – without any actual actors.

But the algorithms won’t make the most exciting ones, they’ll make the ones most suitable for the masses. AI created by people will shape the world as it is for people: rational, causal, purposeful, profitable. The element of intuition won’t come into it.

When the deal with the devil turns against us at some point, we will have forgotten everything because we’ve willingly opted for dependency. Even now, very few people can read a map anymore. What remains of a person when they’re nothing more than a consumer? A cretin without a future?

AI raises the question of what is actually human. Everything we know has been thought about by humans, experienced with a human body that’s liable to injury, forgetful and driven by instincts. AI has no body. How would it describe nature? It, which doesn’t have to reproduce because it’s immortal?

As soon as it has a consciousness, will it consider everything biological to be useless? Is it possible that machines could soon rule the world? They don’t need air or water and have infinite time to conquer the universe. People have always been sceptical of technology, but in the case of AI, they have good reason to be. And now you get to guess whether this text was written by AI or a person.