Since antiquity or any time thought to be the beginning of the universe, one thing that has characterized the planet where human life is supported is ages.
Taking a stroll down history, there was the stone age, where a man was no better than Neanderthals (or was Neanderthals as some anthropologists argue). There was also the industrial age where man sort to control tools and machines to dictate what goes and what comes and whatnots, in his effort at self-preservation.
Also, we are thought to be in the information age wherein men try to make the most of available or accessible data, in the very same efforts at preservation, and by extension, control of other humans. Man has always sought to be in charge of his own affairs, and those of others.
This information age has seen man, a very curious creature, explore both the easily explorable, and the thought-to-be inexplorable or fancied to be forbidden and sacred. Man wants to understand and as much as possible, control his environment.
In 1969, with much thanks to NASA through the Apollo 11 fame, man landed on the moon for the very first time. Also, in 2018, the Parker Solar Probe was launched, becoming the closest-ever artificial object to the Sun. Man has always wanted to see ‘what’s up, literally. And maybe that’s not so much in the wrong because as Stephen Hawkings averred – “To confine our attention to terrestrial matters would be to limit the human spirit.”
And no, Man didn’t stop there. Man has also gone to see what’s down. In 1961, The Mohole project drilled to 124 miles (122 miles of the ocean floor beneath two miles of ocean off the coast of California). The purpose of this project was to determine the nature of the Mohorovicic discontinuity, which is the boundary between the earth’s crust and the earth’s mantle, on top of which it floats. A harrowing crucible for knowledge. But then curiosity kills the cat, not the man.
This trait of seeking knowledge and control is possessed virtually by all men, though in varying degrees, and is channeled via varying means in Man’s efforts to be in charge. Some used to prefer myths as solutions to man’s many Inquisitions, others divinations. Today undoubtedly, science has taken precedence over all of man’s previously devised means to obtaining knowledge. Today, man can fly like a bird through the airplane, talk to his many friends without leaving his room through the telephone and its accessories, make payments and take deliveries of goods through the many online service channels.
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE 101
The term artificial intelligence was first coined by John McCarthy in 1956. Five years later, Alan Turing wrote a paper on the notion of machines being able to stimulate human beings, and the ability to do intelligent things, such as play chess. It was not a famous term back then but is now a buzz word. Almost everything that is now driven by modern technology is termed, “AI” even when it is not the case.
Concisely, Artificial intelligence emerged as a concept in 1956 and credited as a term to John McCarthy.
According to Alan Turing, the main components of Artificial intelligence is;
- Language – Understanding
With the advent of Artificial intelligence, the postman has been phased out of business, the typist and many bank cashiers have lost their jobs too. And with the traction that Artificial intelligence is gaining, many more professionals stand to lose their means of livelihood soonest and their duties would be performed by more efficient and low maintenance machines.
And maybe soon enough, many organizations may not have the physical needs of their employees with meetings being conducted through technological devices, through which reports and assessment would also be made. Traffic ridden states would be relived therein, just as it means many more people would become more and more sedentary.
Work dynamics would, assuredly, take a more efficient turn, and with it would be human health and social relations which would also, never remain the same.
Social distancing rules imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic brought more of these realities to our faces. As of 2020, we already have virtual executive meetings, virtual conferences, virtual ceremonies, virtual classes (from creche to Colleges), Virtual religious worships. Virtually everything is going virtual!
THE ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AGE
In 2001, a social researcher called Mark Crindle coined the term, “Generation Alpha”. The members of this group are members of the generation born from 2010 to 2024, that is those born after Generation Z.
This generation does not just, by chance take the nomenclature ‘Alpha’ (A after Z, right?). He further stated – ‘Alpha Kids will grow up with I-pads in hand, never live without a smartphone and have the ability to transfer or process a thought online in seconds. These features, amongst others, will make Generation Alpha the most transformative generation ever.’
Aided by gadgets mostly powered by 5G, and which according to Qualcomm, is the next level, after 4G, and will “elevate the mobile network to not only interconnect people, but also interconnect and control machines, objects, and devices”, the Alpha kid has the world almost within his palms. They would grow to understand the “Internet of Things (IoT)” which would be powered by 5G.
Conversely, it has also been speculated that members of this generation would experience the most intense form of food allergies (Mayo Clinic of Minnesota), Nearsightedness due to excessive screen time (as reported by American optometric association), and Obesity and Malnutrition (UNICEF report October 2019). However, all of these are under probabilities. Also, the expectations may not be evenly spread across different continents.
With a more critical look, what becomes of a world where you have machines that can carry out almost all your wishes, that can learn, give perceptions, possess the ability to reason and solve problems but are controlled by ‘Alphas’ who have tolerance for limited diets, are half-blind and also almost immobile due to obesity? We look askance!
PROSPECT AND PREMONITIONS
The future, as uncertain as always, is even more uncertain for Alpha and Artificial intelligence. If data available is anything to go by, it tells of a world of exponential technological advancement for and by man; as it also speaks of the near degenerating state of a breed of men who would be in charge of machines that are capable of reasoning, solving problems, learning and language understanding.
With a pragmatic assessment, it seems like a handing over or transitional program from men to machines. But of course, man is usually more concerned with the political control side to anything in light of which the second most powerful man in the world – Vladimir Putin, has stated that ‘the nations that lead in Artificial intelligence will be the ruler of the world’. So, which country’s Alphas will lead the pack?
However, in reality, as it relates to humans, what is likely to be seen might be what is termed, “a cyborg” or Terminator as millennials called the fictional character. That is, the evolution of man to machine (some part Darwin himself might not have envisaged), or the devolution of human features to a machine!
Much as we may speculate, anticipate or try to be proactive, the future that is Artificial intelligence, seems a Fait Accompli. And where a man must choose between the devil and the deep blue sea (as some pessimists describe this future) or between Eden and Utopia (for the optimists), survival in both worlds, like Darwin would agree, is adaptation premised on preparedness. We may not be certain of the extent of the intensity, the range of its proclivities nor the metrics of humanity’s vulnerability. But at best, we can be aware. And as the resilient specie that we are, with awareness, we can adapt. We would better adapt if we prepare ahead.
In order to not lose out again at the power-sharing table, there is the need to get our Nigerian Alphas aware of AI. Are we ready to do what it takes?
Words by ID Lawrence,
ID Lawrence is a Law graduate, journalist, essayist, and poet. He is the founding Director of Research, Sustainable Africa Youth – an organization modeled after the Goal 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions) of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals with a base in the University of Lagos, and the team leads for SAY-Alpha, the team responsible for effecting the broad objectives of Sustainable Africa Youth in High Schools across Nigeria.
He can be reached on +234 80 264 42 104. [email protected]