30 September 2011

Beggars, Barterers, and Bandits (Part 3 of 3)

At last, we reach the conclusion, which is actually a prelude to a plan for redirecting the course of this nation. Continuing from the previous two posts, where I discussed some of the impending dangers to our civil society as we know it, we examine two more dangers. One issue we push from our minds because it seems like a distant future concern. The other issue we push from our minds because the magnitude of it's implications leave us feeling impotent. In the end, I propose that all of these are survivable, if not preventable.

"....artificial brains [will be] thinking a million times faster than we are. Our brains, biological brains, are operating at chemical speeds. Electronic brains think at the speed of light." Professor Hugo De Garis
The Artificial Intelligence Problem: perhaps the farthest threat from our immediate consciousness, Professor Hugo De Garis, a computer scientist who designs and creates artificial brains, warns that the emergence of human-like artificial intelligence lies within the lifetime of most people alive today. Raymond Kurzweil, an inventor who has predicted many technological landmarks, believes we approach a time he calls the singularity. As technology improves exponentially throughout our lifetimes, we will reach a point where technology will have advanced to the point that we will blur the lines between man and machine. We will create nano-machines to work within our bodies to fight infections and aging. Kurzweil believes we will be able to plug our brains into networks of information and download knowledge in seconds. If you are remembering the film, "The Matrix," right about now, the similarities continue. These new technologies could help us solve some of the other problems we face, but they could also lead to our undoing. Professor De Garis states that South Korea is working to create and market robots to assist us in our homes; he works himself as a developer of artificial brains. As that technology improves, AI machines will begin to sense errors and malfunctions within themselves and be capable of testing on, learning about, and repairing themselves. Eventually, the technology will improve so much so that in the interest of self-preservation and perhaps even self-awareness, these machines may begin to find humans to be more of a pest than a master. Even if we can mitigate all of the other catastrophic events threatening us in the near future, managing the development and use of artificial intelligence could be humanity's largest challenge. We will have militaries competing with each other for progress in defense while the consumer market will demand better machines for personal use. The progression of machines that have a greater capacity to learn than we do, but that rely on pure reason without emotional intelligence, will make our current concerns about internet privacy and electronic security seem trivial. But like I said, that's if we can manage all of the other catastrophic threats.
"If terrorists took out eight cities in one day, you have all the great apocalypses rolled into one. You talk about water shortages: there is no water. You talk about energy shortages: there is no energy." Robert Gleason 
The Problem of Terrorism and Nuclear Destruction:  According to Robert Gleason, Executive Editor of End of Days, supplies of fuel for nuclear bombs have been so compromised that all around the world, terrorists have the power to bring destruction. Recounting an incident of bomb fuel being stolen from Los Alamos, Gleason explains, "That was in the United States of America. If we can't secure our own nuclear bomb fuel, how is Pakistan going to do it? How is India going to do it? How is Russia going to do it?" The technology exists, so as long as that technology is available, the risk will exist for nuclear terrorism.  How we mitigate those threats and decrease aggression towards the United States will involve both protecting nuclear fuel and rethinking our role as a global citizen. If humanity will cultivate enough self-awareness to work toward balancing the livelihoods of the common man with the desires of the powerful, we might just find peace; the next age of civilization could be an enlightened one. In the meantime, we must foster the understanding that economic compatibility does not necessarily indicate ideological similarity, and as long as we ignore human rights in favor of financial gain in the global theater, we will continue to generate a plague of hatred and fear toward the United States.
The six experts seemed to agree on one possible solution to avoiding our downfall in the face of these potentials: we must begin to think and act locally. How can we feed ourselves locally? How can we prepare for water shortages in our city? How can we band together as a community to meet certain needs? We all need to learn how to be more self-sustainable. While none of the men could conceive of how to prevent extermination by future rogue artificial intelligence, they all believed that a collaborative effort to find local solutions to these problems will help avert the worst consequences of a collapsed monetary system, or a collapsed food distribution system, or a water shortage. They speak to the self-reliance I believe we need to cultivate. The immediate and ever-present needs of food, water, and security require information that most of us currently obtain from the internet on impulse, if at all. If every basic privilege of society were taken away from us, including a power structure that would allow us to log on and tap into those knowledge bases, how many of use would be prepared to survive? Do we know where to turn for resources beyond the gas station and the grocery store?
"In times of really great oppression, you need to band together, you need to help each other; you need to sacrifice for your friends because at a certain point, they're going to have to sacrifice for you. If we could somehow learn to work together, and we could come to see humanity as one community, probably nothing is impossible then. But as long as it's us against them, the in-group and the out-group, that kind of thinking is the road to Perdition." Robert Gleason
The type of universal business education I'm proposing benefits the entire society by supporting the economic system that we all depend on now, while also preparing individuals to survive if that economic system were to dwindle, falter, or fail. It provides near-term results and benefits while helping us prepare for and potentially prevent worst-case scenarios. This seems counter to the local efforts just described, but better education provides the resources to better understand and solve local issues. To survive in a time of extreme upheaval when most social systems have been dissolved, we will either become beggars, barterers, or bandits. Those who can be self-sufficient will provide for their own needs as much as possible and will barter for whatever they cannot grow or build. A basic understanding of how to use that bartering system to one's advantage has obvious benefits. Those who cannot support themselves through their own work and ingenuity will either beg or steal, which doesn't sound that much different from now. Keeping the thread of a civil society intact requires that most people become barterers. We can reduce crime and poverty now by preparing people to support themselves and increase local collaboration. Training an entire nation to be better barterers as well as entrepreneurs or corporate titans is time well-spent in a strained educational system. As I've mentioned in a previous post, even people who work to serve, or people who will never start their own business, can benefit from understanding how business works. It is part of a larger picture of national strength-building that I will introduce shortly.
"We are the one species on the planet that will run into a burning fire to save a complete stranger. We are the one species on the planet that will organize our community to help a community on the other side of the world that we may never visit. We're the one species on the planet that has the compassion to make sacrifices to help another species." John Cronin
No matter the economic climate, someone always will be looking for a way to take advantage of others. In times of extremely limited resources, the viciousness of those methods of victimizing others will elevate, and a small group can gain strength over the masses through fear and perceived dependency. For this reason, average Americans can no longer look to large corporations, banks, or the government to be benefactors of opportunity. We must make our own opportunities, creating strength through self-reliance. People often point to the unity felt in the U.S. after the 9/11 attacks as a beacon of hope, as proof that we have the ability to see past the petty issues that often cloud our disagreements. That same unity of purpose arose again after Hurricane Katrina flooded the Gulf states, and Americans quickly realized that the government can be ill-prepared for even the most local of disasters. Business knowledge cultivates self-reliance, which cultivates a stronger, smarter populace, who will resist out-of-control governments, monopolies, or would-be despots. We have it in us now to collaborate and work toward a system where no one will have to go hungry, and we will still have an opportunity to thrive.
Will teaching the country's youth best business practices save the world? Of course it won't, not by itself. Remember the larger picture of national strength-building I mentioned earlier? I'm talking about a business plan, a Business Plan for America, a plan that couples emotional intelligence with business acumen. It's a plan to protect human resources as well as natural resources, to plan for profitability as well as for emergencies. Even more than planning for our nation's success, we could explore the possibility that humanity as a whole could be uplifted. It's about teaching everyone to fish. Better education could lead to new ways to grow food, treat water, and prepare for changes in global economic trends. Many, many more variables remain to be discussed, but the first step towards our success as a nation should be to commit to the success of the least among us. When we ask our children what they want to be when they grow up, we should be prepared to show them the way.

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