The Individual Is Stripped. A response to Alain De Botton’s AEI world.


In the November edition of Wired UK Alain de Botton writes about the future of Artificial Intelligence and the progression to Artificial Emotional Intelligence (AEI).  That is to say gaps in our emotional control and decision making far outweigh our logic based decision making.  De Botton calls the potential of computational power being direct at the emotional and psychological dimensions of our lives ‘exciting’  I think in fact it’s the main road to our collective death.

De Botton argues that by adopting computational power into our everyday emotional decision making we’ll discover the better self.  You’ll just be you, but a better version.  So for example, rather than wondering what job you’d be best suited to, AEI will already know and thus, the decision is made.  Your career is set out.  You’ll reach your professional potential because you’d have always done the job that your state of mind and ability is best suited to.

What an odd scenario.  Whilst maximum efficiency can be garnered, life itself has been taken away.  As I write this I think of Steve Jobs dropping out of class and attending a calligraphy class for no other reason other than he was interested in the beauty and the precision.  Years later it was that class, at the time considered a mistake by his family and peers, that influenced the Mac’s typeface.  Is that really a mistake then?  Years later Jobs, whilst giving a very famous speech at Stanford University, tells the students to believe that the dots will connect.  What you do in the past will somehow and somewhere in your life influence you and what seems like a wrong direction at the time turns out to the right direction all along.  In short, Jobs was saying trust yourself.

De Botton also talks about dying with fewer regrets because AEI will identify the best ways for us to learn, to be educated and thus eliminate the potential for mistakes.  How boring.  Aren’t mistakes what bring experience, emotion, direction, drive and focus?  making mistakes is a badge of honour in Silicon Valley.  Failure is embraced as it forces one to try, try and try again, its the very basis of understanding effort and persistency.  What if that was removed?  is De Botton saying thats a good thing?

In the AEI world we’ll only receive news feeds applicable to our interests, we won’t receive anything outside of what AEI tells us we should be receiving and consuming.  This takes away the browsing of the Sunday papers, reading subjects outside of ones circle of interest. I’ve always considered this a vital point of learning.  What one learns about a subject a little outside of ones interest more often than not can be applied to other parts of your life.  Furthermore, if might open up a new interest!  the discovery is part of the pleasure.

The most worrying scenario De Botton paints for me is the impact on art.  The fact that great art is unique, rare and seeked out is a bad thing in the world of AEI.  Indeed, AEI will allow the individual to crete their own pieces and no longer be grateful to the masters.  We’d move the context of a painting or novel and whilst keep the narrative and verve of writing, apply to our local society and whats important to us.  We’d remove the need for imagination and thought, we’d be spoon fed artistic impression.  The masters would not longer exist.  Art is in the hands of the individual and no value is applied to the collective because no one cares.  Yet art is one of the most important aspects of life.  The pleasure, influence, individuality and aspiration are ll wonderful things.  Imagine a world with no galleries?  no best selling books?  maybe no films?

Finally De Botton also talks about relationships.  No longer would we have arguments with our loved ones because AEI tells us whats wrong and how to behave.  No longer would anyone feel awkward in some social situation because AEI would tell us how to behave.  No longer will we make mistakes in our relationships with others because AEI will tell us what to do.  While this may sound appealing, to me this is the substance which will kill passion.  The fact we have up’s and downs (as we all do) with our loved ones and the fact we don’t always know how to behave make up our experiences and thus we learn how to behave.  This is a vital element in the tapestry of life and the development of the self.

De Botton paints a picture of a homogenous world.  The individual is stripped of decision making, stripped of emotional intelligence, stripped of passion and the desires to explore and to learn.  Soul is removed and the collective become controlled by AEI.  I cannot think of a worse world.

In my world differentiation, individualism and mistakes are all embraced and loved, indeed they are precious.  The idea of control of ones emotions being taken away and the path of our lives laid out before us makes for a very dull existence and thus will kill the human race, eventually.  Or force a revolution.

Maybe de Botton is painting a picture he doesn’t really believe, he’s just being provocative.  its difficult to tell but the nightmare scenario he creates at least should make sure everybody takes note of the gathering pace of AI and is aware of the potential outcomes.  The singularity is ever closer.


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