The Aliens Have Landed - Now What?
The triple threats of Climate, Inequality and Ai Offer an International Opportunity
Lately, as Kodi and I ramble along the Connecticut River on our early morning walks I’ve been thinking a lot about Carl Sagan and R. Buckminster Fuller. These two brilliant scientists lived with one foot in the esoteric and cosmic world of science and the other firmly planted here on earth.
Long before we knew about climate change “Bucky” Fuller was drawing attention to the need for us to live sustainably on our planet. It was Fuller who coined the term “Spaceship Earth”.
Carl Sagan stressed many of the same things but he was also an activist; a major force in creating the momentum for a nuclear test ban treaty and the ensuing efforts to limit nuclear weapons.
Carl Sagan was a brilliant astrophysicist, but he was also a novelist. He would be the first person to remind us that the question posed in the title of this piece is the standard plot of nearly every science fiction story or novel ever written about the arrival of aliens on planet earth.
In the plot, the approach or arrival of alien life has served to create a clarion call for unity among the nations of the world and they rally together to protect what has suddenly become our mutual home.
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The Cheyenne, my brothers and sisters from the plains, call her Esheheman . . . grandmother (or Grandmother Earth in the more obvious translation). Every nation of native people have a different name but today - more than ever before - she is everyone’s grandmother.
Having lived through a pandemic that claimed the lives of millions of our brothers and sisters, of every color and origin, across the globe over the last few years we have emerged, bent but unbroken, to find a new existential threat added to the climate emergency and the savage wealth inequality that grew worse over the course of the pandemic, creating a triple threat to humanity: Artificial Intelligence.
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Until now AI has been seen as a challenge for future generations, but in the past two years, with the advent of Chat GPT and other iterations of similar technology the changes have started to finally capture the attention of both citizens and the media. What right now seems a persistent hum in the cultural background will very rapidly be a virtual roar very soon.
There are, of course, those who pooh-pooh the concerns expressed about AI, whether the fear is over the loss of jobs, the tendency for technological revolutions to morph into technological arms races, and a rush to the bottom ethical framework attendant to such an arms race. These technophiles claim that every technological leap has required government to follow behind with regulations to clean up the consequences of the change, but AI is different and the dangers are far too great for us to play cleanup in the arena of public policy.
The report that 50% of those who understand the technology best, AI researchers, believe that there is a better than 10% chance that humans will become extinct as a result of our inability to control the effects of AI should give us all pause. Further, many of the changes to the technological landscape predicted by these same researchers ten years ago are actually occurring up to four times as fast as their original expectations because of the unforeseen impacts created by the cumulative impacts of various dimensions of AI technology that will result in broader and deeper changes at ever increasing speeds. Let me underline that: change occurring 4 times faster than expected is only the beginning.
You know that a writer is flummoxed when he or she purposely mixes metaphors, but I’m hard-pressed not to say that the snowball of earth-shattering change is rolling downhill and this genie will not be put back in the bottle.
There is no time to waste. It is probably impossible to get ahead of this technology but it is imperative to try.
Every candidate for public office and especially for President should have a detailed plan for how they will lead in the age of AI.
There will be hundreds of thousands of books, movies, videos, and articles written about the specifics and the nuances of AI. But if we are going to survive there are two things that I believe are essential components to the journey.
First, we must move rapidly to address the challenges of AI on a dual track, nationally within the US but also on a global scale with an International Convention, logically under the umbrella of the United Nations but including a wide range of stakeholders: governments, corporations, researchers, and civil society.
The risks and challenges posed by AI are multifaceted and extend beyond traditional geopolitical boundaries and our approach to helping to chart the future should involve this wide range of stakeholders.
Organizing such a convention will take time, but in the meantime, we need an "American University" moment to address the most dangerous aspect of AI: Lethal Autonomous Weapons (Robots).
In 1963 President John F. Kennedy took the bold step of announcing a unilateral nuclear test ban at American University. This speech launched decades of arms control efforts and a developing consensus around the need to step back from the brink of Nuclear oblivion. Today a similar leadership on the subject of Lethal Autonomous Weapons is essential by the President in this area of AI and every candidate should be challenged to answer the question of how he or she would address the challenge.
If Carl Sagan were still alive he would be urging us to imagine the opportunity of addressing all three of these existential challenges as one, using Ai as the organizing principle for solving the challenges of climate change and wealth disparity. He would smile and say “just think of what we could achieve on this pale blue dot. . .”
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About Wayne D. King: Author, podcaster, artist, activist, social entrepreneur and recovering politician. A three-term State Senator, 1994 Democratic nominee for Governor. His art (WayneDKing.com) is exhibited nationally in galleries, and he has published five books of his images, most recently, "New Hampshire - a Love Story”. His novel "Sacred Trust", a vicarious, high-voltage adventure to stop a private powerline, as well as the photographic books are available at most local bookstores or on Amazon. He lives on the “Narrows” in Bath, NH at the confluence of the Connecticut and Ammonoosuc Rivers and proudly flies the American, Iroquois and Abenaki Flags. His publishing website is: Anamaki.com.
Produced at Anamaki Studios in Bath, NH.
This land lies in N’dakinna, the traditional ancestral homeland of the Abenaki, Sokoki, Koasek, Pemigewasset, Pennacook and Wabanaki Peoples past and present. We acknowledge and honor with gratitude those who have stewarded N’dakinna throughout the generations.
Notes and Links:
If you wonder about our capacity for addressing this challenge in the current partisan atmosphere in congress you only need to watch the hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee on the subject of AI held recently to see that this is a matter taken seriously by members of both political parties. Watching this hearing provides a view into how Congress should function.