In 2016, blockchain technology was going to replace, well, basically everything. It was going to replace the people and processes that verified and exchanged real estate. It was going to revolutionise how you lived from the self-driving car that autonomously bargained and bartered with other autonomous cars to saving the very soul of what we know as publishing. We, the hapless brutes on the receiving end of our tech overlord’s whims, were told that everything would change. Banks would disappear and business so completely transformed that we would hardly notice in the soft, warm haze of transparency, accountability and game theory. Instead we got Ponzi schemes, obsessive financialisation and abandonment of most of the projects that could have done a bit of good.
Is it too early to tell? Maybe. But that is besides the fact, which is that it too was a brand new, potentially earth-shattering technology with insane amounts of money that too would eliminate jobs everywhere and would change the face of humanity. It’s been six years and none of that has happened at any reasonable scale yet.
We still have to click a lot just to do mundane tasks. We still have paper everywhere and people sending emails to verify that they got the money. Anything vaguely risky, no matter how tech-forward the company or industry, still requires a human interacting with it in a very slow, laborious and methodical manner.
Here we find ourselves in the midst of what could be the same thing. The same hockey-besticked charts and the same numbers massaged and cajoled into spelling out a certain future of Machine Learning devised cancer treatments and safe, hands-free drunk driving. There are insanely impressive demos, but we need to remember with any new magic, parlour tricks don’t equal dragons.
But what happens when this gets old? When the novelty wears off?
What happens when doing this for free runs out?
And what if it stops doing what it’s supposed to?
Despite the inordinate amount of questions you or I could throw at AI and its nascent, possible or questionable takeover, something else comes to mind. We as a species like change, but not too fast or not too much. We have too often in the past couple of decades been the victims, willing and not, of technology and the power structures that enable and finance them. We need to remember that nothing is ever linear in the march of time and the progress of history, nor is anything assured. Will we have a Library of Alexandria moment where the technology, gathering and mobilising of intelligence and knowledge is put to the torch?
You never know when things will get too scary or when it will just all be too much, or when the nasty bits of human’s base emotions as displayed in civil wars and authoritarianism decide to purge any trace of a thing they see as a threat.