The age of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is coming. The oracles of this future are warning of a major paradigm shift. Usually, such messages can be taken with a grain of salt as they often touch on science fiction.
However, the recent book, The Age of AI and Our Human Future, is different. It needs to be taken seriously. The 2021 work is written by two tech-savvy authors, Google’s Eric Schmidt and MIT’s Daniel Huttenlocher. They are joined by the disturbing figure of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, which changes the focus.
Thus, the book is about technology and where AI will take the world politically, culturally, and even militarily. Dr. Kissinger’s contribution is unsettling because of his past role in the ill-fated Vietnam peace treaty and the West’s embrace of Communist China. His globalist insights about AI are both credible and chilling.
Written with Historic Drama
It is a carefully written book. The authors take great pains not to exaggerate the power of AI beyond that of a human creation. They develop their arguments calmly within the context of current developments. This is not science fiction.
However, they insinuate that all should get on board with the coming changes lest they be marginalized. Thus, the present crossroads are painted with historical drama and mystery. AI is not just a new phase of a technical revolution. Humanity is entering into a new era comparable to and even exceeding the Enlightenment. AI will change how humanity sees itself. It will be messy and risky.
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From a Catholic perspective, three telltale points stand out that indicate the age of AI should be a cause for grave moral concern.
A Post-Rational Perspective
The first point is what might be called its post-rational perspective. Most modern errors reject the Catholic notion of the supremacy of reason (illuminated by the Faith) since it restricts the action of unfettered passions. Modern philosophers find different ways to escape reason and embrace fantasies. David Hume went so far as to say, “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions.”
The three authors—all admirers of the Enlightenment—are not so rash as to deny reason but rather seek to transcend it.
The book’s message is clear: modernity has reached “the partial end of the postulated superiority of human reason.” AI will usher in “a form of logic that humans have not achieved or cannot achieve, exploring aspects of reality we have never known and may never directly know.”
The authors reassure readers that “traditional reason and faith will persist in the age of AI.” However, AI will transform all realms of human experience, even altering free society and free will. Beyond the limits of reason, life will organize itself augmented by AI, prompting “many or even most humans to retreat into individual, filtered customized worlds.”
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Although not yet popularized at the time of the book’s writing, one can already see the AI-generated “metaverse” of absolute freedom and imagination coming. The world will see a “shift from the centrality of human reason to the centrality of human dignity and autonomy.” Choices, not reasons, will dominate.
History Through Filters
The second revealing point is the book’s evolutionary model of history with its attacks on the Church. The authors show little originality by adopting a modern classical narrative of a history without God.
Thus, they describe history as periods when people perceived reality through different filters. The polytheistic societies in the ancient world, for example, explained reality through its pantheon of mythological gods.
The Middle Ages is reduced to a world where everything “was only to be known through God; theology filtered and ordered individuals’ experiences and the natural phenomenon before them.”
Subsequent periods like the Renaissance, the Protestant Revolution and especially the Enlightenment filtered reality through individualism and reason.
The new filter will be AI. The Age of AI fits neatly into this evolutionary, secular and fatalistic vision of history without God. The authors do not “celebrate or bemoan” AI but only announce its inevitable march to change “human thought, knowledge, perception and reality.”
Of course, this vision contrasts with the Church’s non-fatalistic notion of history by which all work out their salvation. The Church is not just another filter among many. Likewise, historical periods are influenced by events, people’s virtue and God’s grace, not determined by evolutionary filters.
Confiding in a God-like Intelligence
The third point is an ominous dependence on AI with unknown consequences. Indeed, the book speaks more through what it omits. The text constantly asks probing questions about AI’s implications, to which the reader suspects the authors know the answers.
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The authors add urgency to accepting the coming age by exploring AI’s impact on international relations and global security. The very real threat of cyber-warfare is in some ways more dangerous than nuclear weapons. Thus, the authors invite world leaders to come together urgently. Their insistence that the public embrace, not resist, this unknown cyber future takes on the note of a veiled threat.
This leap into the unknown is made worse because the public is asked to embrace an AI future that has yet “to define its organizing principles, its moral concepts, or its sense of aspirations and limitations.”
Without understanding AI, humans are expected to defer to it to an ever-greater degree in matters of ever-increasing magnitude. The non-tech-savvy majority will be exposed to such overwhelming processing power that “some may be tempted to treat AI’s pronouncements as quasi-divine judgments” delivered by “a god-like intelligence” with “a superhuman way of knowing the world and intuiting its structures and possibilities.” This almost magical resolution of problems by AI leads the authors to speculate that the cold industrialized world will experience “a re-enchantment” with AI delivering “oracular pronouncements.”
This caricature of Divine Providence can prove to be a monstrous tool in the hands of evildoers and rogue nations.
“People with Deep Experience”
Dr. Kissinger et al. does not trust this process to work spontaneously without “people with deep experience” guiding the way. Although they desperately cite the need to find an ethical framework soon, there is obviously something already in place at this late hour. The authors suggest “a small group of respected figures from the highest levels of government, business and academia” worldwide will be needed to coordinate the coming age of AI. This global network fits well with “Great Reset” models now circulating that foretell monumental changes in humanity.
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Like all revolutionary utopians, the age of AI seeks to change the idea of humanity and reality in a world without God. Such a vision reduces history to the story of how people pursue their self-interests and gratifications to the greatest possible extent. AI, the enabling oracle, needs to be returned to its place as a tool whereby people might better practice virtue and favor the common good.
The Kissinger-conceived AI future is doomed to fail because it cannot address the needs of souls for the sublime, the true and the eternal. Such man-centered schemes take away humanity’s most precious asset, the spiritual framework that helps each person strive for sanctification and eternal felicity. AI cannot address these deep needs of the human soul. For these, God alone suffices.
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