In this 80,000 hours website posting, there was this phrase, “new challenges we don’t even know about yet.” This is a concept I’ve blogged about and is the basis of some of my thinking on my choice for Probaway Person of the Year. The premise of that series of posts done on January 1st of each year is, “Who has done something and what has happened this previous year that will be remembered in five hundred years as being significant?” Ten years ago when I was asking that question and posting my opinion, I and we were still thinking of the question being answered by people biologically similar to us living in an upgraded world that we would recognize. But now, only a decade later, what the world will look like in only ten more years becomes even more obscure than it was back then.
Back then things were expected to be changing and even changing at an accelerating rate, but because of the synergism created by ever better communication between all people and every computer and people-computer hybrids this change is accelerating faster than we expected.
Sure, we recognize that people’s jobs have been being replaced all the way back to the 1800s when John Henry’s job of driving railroad spikes was being replaced by a spike driving machine. But only a hundred years later it is the truck drivers themselves being replaced by automatic driving systems. Now “improvements” are moving even faster in the realm of humans being replaced by robotic things and projecting out even ten years becomes problematic.
My thinking back from five hundred years in the future is totally silly because thinking beings may be so different we might not even recognize them. And yet, even though we might have trouble conceiving what a human might be, we may still be able to say, in their thoughts, “this” is what was important and memorable that happened in 2017 AD. I have been thinking that the discovery of the source of the heavy elements on the bottom of the Periodic Table of Elements seen on chemistry classroom walls is of permanent importance, even to a sentient computer. The alchemists for a millennium were trying to create gold and now we know it takes even more energy than there is available in a supernova to create those heavy elements; it takes the collision of neutron stars. That event was spotted by the LIGO observatories and the big optical telescopes of the world swung over to that distant collision spot in the sky and they found the visual markers of gold. That kind of event is important forever, and the first observation of the event is akin to Armstrong and Aldrin being the first humans to set foot on a foreign body like the Moon.
Compared to historical events of that magnitude, the TIME Person of the Year 2017 being “The Silence Breakers” about sexual harassment by people in power over them seems to be mentioning something so common it’s meaningless. Ugly, disgusting, an abuse of good will, and an artifact of people taking advantage of money and power to exploit other people. But that’s why many people seek power. What is the meaning of power in human relationships but to force other people to do what you want them to do even if they don’t want to? What the Silence Breakers did was to exploit the power of the media and its ability to exploit power over those power exploiting predators. But why hasn’t Bill Cosby been imprisoned for the obvious crimes he committed for years, and why is his now dead friend Hugh Hefner still considered an icon of masculine virtue for his decades-long exploitation of women? Both of those men are disgusting to thinking moral beings.
The point of this post is to point out the short-sightedness of humanity and the difficulty of how to control people with power and to think about virtue in a long term mindset.