Yuval Noah Harari argues that artificial intelligence has hacked the operating system of human civilization.
Fears of artificial intelligence (AI) have haunted humanity since the dawn of the computer age. Until now these fears have focused on machines using physical means to kill, enslave or replace humans. But in the last two years, new artificial intelligence tools have emerged that threaten the survival of human civilization from an unexpected direction. Artificial intelligence has acquired some remarkable abilities to manipulate and create language, be it words, sounds or images. In this way he has hacked the operating system of our culture.
Language is the stuff of which almost all human civilization is made. Human rights, for example, are not written into our DNA. Rather, they are cultural artifacts that we created by telling stories and writing laws. Gods are not physical realities. Rather, they are cultural artifacts that we created by inventing myths and writing “holy” scriptures.
Money, too, is a cultural artifact. Banknotes are just colorful pieces of paper, and currently more than 90% of money isn’t even a banknote — it’s just digital information on computers. What gives money value is the stories we are told about it by bankers, finance ministers and cryptocurrency gurus. Sam Bankman-Fried, Elizabeth Holmes, and Bernie Madoff weren’t particularly good at creating real value, but they were all extremely capable storytellers.
What would happen when a non-human intelligence becomes better than the average human at telling stories, composing melodies, drawing pictures, and writing laws and scriptures? When people think about Chatgpt and other new AI tools, they are often drawn to examples like school children using AI to write their essays. What will happen to the school system when kids do this? But this kind of question misses the big picture. Forget school essays. Think of the next US presidential race in 2024 and try to imagine the impact of AI tools that can be built to mass produce political content, fake news and “holy” scriptures for new sects.
In recent years the qAnon “sect” has rallied around anonymous online messages known as “q drops”. Followers collected, worshiped and interpreted these q-drops as sacred texts. While as far as we know all previous q drops were composed by humans and bots merely helped spread them, in the future we may see the first sects in history whose holy texts were written by a non-human intelligence. Religions throughout history have claimed a non-human source for their holy books. Soon this may become a reality.