What will our future look like? Pondering this question is the work of futurologists. A few things seem likely. First, robots and artificial intelligence may take over our jobs, and we will become obsolete as workers. Machines and computers already took over many jobs. Until now, new jobs replaced the old ones. These new jobs were more complex, so machines could not do them. But soon, artificial intelligence can perform these tasks. Artificial intelligence is a computer programme that can learn. Soon, artificial intelligence may make better decisions than humans and take over many remaining jobs. We may soon have a lot of leisure time. Or we could be left without income and become destitute.
A few decades from now, we may not be driving our cars anymore. We tell them where we want to go. Our cars then plot a route, bring us there, and keep us safe. Perhaps it will be forbidden to drive yourself when human drivers cause more accidents than self-driving cars. When I was a teenager, and Knight Rider was a popular television series, it seemed a distant possibility. Today the technology is there. Artificial intelligence may soon make many decisions for us. We may still decide what we want, for example, what kind of book we like to read, but algorithms decide the specifics. And you might even be happy with it because artificial intelligence knows better what you desire than you do.
Some people fear that computers and robots will take over the world and control us or destroy us. Computers and robots don’t have a will of their own. Even artificial intelligence does not want anything. Computers act the way they are programmed, but artificial intelligence is unpredictable. It learns and can become more intelligent than we are. We allow smartphones to take over our lives, but this is not what smartphones want to do. Humans have made apps to make them addictive, so we do what the programmers of these apps want us to do. And we are lazy, so we allow algorithms to decide for us. In this way, artificial intelligence can take over our lives. Emotions and desires have a biological origin, so computers and robots don’t have them. That may change because artificial intelligence can learn to act as if it has human desires.
Second, humans may enhance themselves with biotechnology, cyborg engineering and information technology. These beings are not humans anymore and can be called post-humans. They might still be like us in many ways because we think that our inner selves are precious. And so, we are unlikely to alter our inner selves, even if we can. These post-humans may live very long while artificial intelligence does the decision-making. And so they have a lot of time on their hands, and boredom may be their biggest challenge.
That brings us to the third option. These post-humans may create games and imaginary worlds with simulations of human civilisations to entertain themselves. If that technology is cheap, there could be billions of virtual universes for every real one, and we live in a virtual reality ourselves.1 It could explain the licence plate number of Franz Ferdinand’s car and the waking up at night and seeing those peculiar time prompts. But can we determine that we live inside a simulation? For that, we need to ascertain what we can know. That is the domain of a branch of philosophy called knowledge theory.
Latest revision: 1 May 2023
Featured image: Dead Sea Scroll – part of Isaiah Scroll (Isa 57:17 – 59:9). Public Domain.
1. Are You Living In a Computer Simulation? Nick Bostrom (2003). Philosophical Quarterly (2003) Vol. 53, No. 211, pp. 243-255. [link]