Chilling Prediction

Professor: Total Surveillance Is the Only Way to Save Humanity

The author of "The Simulation Argument" says one bad technology could destroy humanity — and the only way to prevent it is an AI overlord.

4. 19. 19 by Kristin Houser
Shutterstock/Tag Hartman-Simkins
Image by Shutterstock/Tag Hartman-Simkins

Big Brother

The Oxford philosopher who posited 15 years ago that we might be living in a computer simulation has another far-out theory, this time about humanity’s future — and it’s not exactly optimistic.

On Wednesday, Nick Bostrom took the stage at a TED conference in Vancouver, Canada, to share some of the insights from his latest work, “The Vulnerable World Hypothesis.”

In the paper, Bostrom argues that mass government surveillance will be necessary to prevent a technology of our own creation from destroying humanity — a radically dystopian idea from one of this generation’s preeminent philosophers.

Black Balls

Bostrom frames his argument in terms of a giant urn filled with balls.  Each ball represents a different idea or possible technology, and they are different colors: white (beneficial), gray (moderately harmful), or black (civilization-destroying).

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Humanity is constantly pulling balls from this urn, according to Bostom’s model — and thankfully, no one has pulled out a black ball yet. Big emphasis on “yet.”

“If scientific and technological research continues,” Bostrom writes, “we will eventually reach it and pull it out.”

Dystopian AF

To prevent this from happening, Bostrom says we need a more effective global government — one that could quickly outlaw any potential civilization-destroying technology.

He also suggests we lean into mass government surveillance, outfitting every person with necklace-like “freedom tags” that can hear and see what they’re doing at all times.

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These tags would feed into “patriot monitoring stations,” or “freedom centers,” where artificial intelligences monitor the data, bringing human “freedom officers” into the loop if they detect signs of a black ball.

Two Evils

We’ve already seen people abuse mass surveillance systems, and those systems are far less exhaustive than the kind Bostrom is proposing.

Still, if it’s a choice between having someone watching our every move or, you know, the end of civilization, Bostrom seems to think the former is a better option than the latter.

“Obviously there are huge downsides and indeed massive risks to mass surveillance and global governance,” he told the crowd at the TED conference, according to Inverse. “I’m just pointing out that if we are lucky, the world could be such that these would be the only way you could survive a black ball.”

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READ MORE: An Oxford philosopher who’s inspired Elon Musk thinks mass surveillance might be the only way to save humanity from doom [Business Insider]

More on Bostrom: Philosopher Hadn’t Seen “The Matrix” Before Publishing Simulation Hypothesis


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