‘The next battle space’

Lubna Abdel Aziz, Friday 13 Sep 2019

The winds of change are always blowing. Brace yourself. Change is coming and it is coming fast. The entire fabric of life will have to be changed — again.
As time marches on, so does change. They are unstoppable. Throughout life’s journey we have always lived with change, often we have sought it. Some change we like, others we fear and others still are blown away, despite our inclinations.

The difference is that change has picked up speed and is rushing in, fast and furious. “Yesterday came suddenly,” leaving us bewildered and insecure.
Technology, education, health, science, food and clothes are often unrecognisable, replaced by the unfamiliar. The young embrace it; the old resist it, but time waits for no one, neither does change.

It took man thousands of years to evolve, to develop his brain, language, culture, domesticate wild animals, refine stone into tools, but ever since, “Prometheus stole the fire of knowledge from right under the noses of the gods on Mt Olympus and bestowed it upon mankind,” humans have not stopped fiddling with it and “creating striking innovations all throughout evolution”.

From hunter/gatherer the time was right to move to an agrarian society developed around 10,000 years ago around the Fertile Crescent, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Nubia and later Central America and China. The world population then was about 10 million.  

Man had the right mix of environmental, mental and cultural development to implement the Agrarian Society, his first revolution.

Transition was slow and gradual. Rural life was simple. Land was linked to morality away from the chaos and complexity of industrial life. It lasted several centuries, but soon the winds of change began to blow in larger populations, specialisation, advanced technology, hierarchical structure and inequality.

It was the dawn of industrial societies and by 1765 the Industrial Revolution occurred in Britain, spreading to Europe and the US. It helped bring about the modern world we know today.

Coincidentally or not, political revolutions as well as non-political revolutions seemed to rise simultaneously in religion, politics, social thinking as well as industry.

No one had ever heard of equality. Treating everyone equally was a cutting-edge view in the 18th century. French thinkers carried the torch of liberty, equality, fraternity and slavery was about to be abolished.

Faster and faster blew the winds of change and in less than a century after the steam engine replaced man power, a new technological movement emerged, introducing a new form of energy, gas and oil.

We thoroughly enjoyed the telephone and the telegraph proved to be highly useful, not to mention the automobile, which today hardly resembles Henry Ford’s T model. Before the end of the 20th century, the airplane consumed our imagination.

The horse and buggy were adequate and a ride on a train was enjoyable, but time is of the essence, and this has become a world with very little time.
Hardly had the 20th century reached its half when the wind with little time to waste, ushered in the third industrial revolution, a new energy — the nuclear energy.

The rise of electronics, telecommunications, computers, opened the doors to space research and biotechnology.

Who amongst us can deny the attachment, possibly addiction to our computers?
How about our smartphones? According to the UN, “more people have access to a mobile phone than basic sanitation.”
Do we even realise that our move from analog electronics and mechanical devices to digital technology has dramatically disrupted industries, not to mention the senior citizen who had hardly heard of Facebook or Google?

In 200 years we have accomplished more than we did in 200,000 years. No doubt that science and medicine have advanced to an accelerated degree, to the benefit of the health of mankind, but what about wars. More sophisticated tools of killing each other seems to cancel all the efforts of humankind.  We fight one war and prepare for the next.

Are we done after three industrial, cultural and social revolutions? We are not.
The age of the steam engine, the age of science and the rise of digital technology could not stop the winds of change from blowing still. What does the future have in store for us? So where are we now?

“The future is already here”, writes novelist William Gibson.
This is the beginning of the fourth revolution: Artificial Intelligence (AI)

What does it mean to be human in 2030? Will we be better off than we are today? What if computers match or even exceed human intelligence and capabilities? What if it can easily perform complex tasks, make decisions, learn languages, compute, etc. Will man be useless?
“The brain is the next battle space” says James Gordon of Georgetown University. So we create AI to help us, and soon it has no longer need for us.

We went from the farm to the factory and now are we to be sent back to the farm? Heaven knows there is a food shortage, why not?
Surveys in the West show that less Christians are attending church, being too busy, on their computers.

We need a moral not a technological revolution. Our only redemption is our spirituality, not based into the digital system.
This is a time of great potential and great peril.

Whatever faults or failings, much has been accomplished. Scientists and technologists have discovered the mystery of nature. It is up to them to draw the line.
Humanity is our legacy for the future.

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