The Race between Technology and Consciousness - Who will win?

Updated: Mar 4, 2020

With technology advancing rapidly with the added fuel of artificial intelligence (AI), there is a possibility that mankind will be in serious problems if global human consciousness cannot grow fastly enough.

Information technology has been advancing exponentially according to Moore’s law, which is a projection of a technology trend and describes that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles roughly every two years, while cost remains the same. Moore’s prediction from 1965 has been almost universally correct since its creation, and therefore I envision that with the advent of AI, this development will continue in the coming years (possibly at a slightly slower pace, but still exponential), resulting in major breakthroughs. If you compare the processing times of computers and devices from 1956 to 2015, there is a 1-trillion fold increase in performance in these six decades. For example, a single Apple iPhone 5 has 2.7 times the processing power of the 1985 Cray-2 supercomputer.

Calum Chace (author of ‘Pandora’s Brain’, ‘Surviving AI’ and ‘The Economic Singularity’) argues that artificial general intelligence (AGI) will soon become a reality, and will surpass the cognitive abilities of an ordinary human, and, shortly afterwards, that of all humans combined in form of artificial superintelligence (ASI). As a scientist, engineer, and technical leader in this field for more than 20 years I agree that this is bound to happen eventually. The question therefore is not if but when. How long it will take for AGI to arrive is hard to predict- perhaps another 2-3 decades, maybe less. But I expect that algorithm’s capabilities will continue to evolve according to Moore’s law, resulting in innovative new applications, devices, and services. Obviously on the flip slide it opens up lots of social and economic problems, that need to be addressed. Tim Urban wrote a good summary “The AI Revolution: The Road to Superintelligence”, that illustrates this topic in an easy to understandable way on his blog.

The problem I want to focus on in this article is what humans will do with these new capabilities: One can use them for doing greater good for mankind, or something evil. It depends on the state of consciousness of the person using these technological capabilities.

As Yuval Noah Harai in his book ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind’ points out that today science and weapon technology are deeply linked. The militaries of the world initiate, finance, and steer a major part of the research and technical development. In case of tactical, strategic or political difficulties, the leaders of governments are more likely looking out for help from science in hope of some “miracle weapon’ discovery, which could solve the problem. For example, some americans think that the problem of terrorism is not a political, but a technology problem and suggest to invest more in nanotechnology to develop miniature ‘spy flies’ that could keep track of every little terrorist movement in Afghanistan, so that CIA would be fully in the loop of each potential development.

A lot of the research that comes out of this certainly could be made available to a broader audience, which then makes it easier for misuse. With more advanced technology the effect of negative things one can accomplish is magnified. For example, a psychopath running around with a hammer can do harm to people, but the impact is probably quite local and limited. Imagine this same person can now (with proper education) leverage technology and write a complex software virus that can cause a major global problem (e.g., hack some nuclear power plant). As AI is evolving at rapid pace the impact of such negative scenarios will therefore likely be magnified further. It’s basically easier for most people to do more global harm with less money and fewer skills needed.

What is consciousness? Consciousness means being fully conscious of things including sense perceptions, thoughts, emotions, and whatever happens in our lives. Eckhart Tolle, a world renowned author and spiritual teacher, in an interview has also elaborated on the term ‘space consciousness’. He explains that:

“ … there is at the same time an undercurrent of awareness of Presence operating in us, Awareness implies that we are not only conscious of things, such as objects and the people around us, but we are also conscious at the same time of being conscious.”

The lack of global consciousness on this planet can be observed simply by watching the evening news, where stories about violence, accidents, or acts of terror are dominating and attracting viewers. If you study the list of ongoing armed conflicts on this planet you will be surprised about the number of ongoing conflicts, and the yearly number of fatalities is well above 100k people per year. Similarly, if you study the world hunger statistics, you learn that some 795 million people in the world do not have e