Technology has made our lives easier, more connected, and more efficient. It has increased our health span (healthy life AND longer life). It has supported the bringing of vastly more humans into being than was ever possible before. When Albert Einstein was born in 1879, there were about 1.4 Billion humans on Earth.
Right now, we are experiencing a new technology shift that is likely to affect human culture and the human future in dramatic ways. But, not everyone is excited. Chegg is blaming ChatGPT for a massive drop in their business. Hollywood writers are threatening to strike over A.I. and calling in their Unions.
Throughout history, people have sometimes been scared, uncertain, or doubtful about new inventions. This is known as "Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt" or FUD.
In this article, we will explore some examples of technology protests and FUD throughout history and look at a brief summary of what happened for each.
We will wrap up with a short look at what's happening with Artificial Intelligence right now with a quick peek at a new thing in education that is hot off the press.
The Luddite Movement (1811-1816)
The Luddites were a group of people who opposed the new machinery and technology during the Industrial Revolution in England. They believed these machines would take away their jobs as skilled craftsmen and leave them unemployed. To fight against these changes, the Luddites went around smashing and destroying machines like the spinning jenny and power looms. Although their actions did not stop the progress of technology, their name is still used today to describe someone against new technologies. So, what Happened?
The Luddite Movement's actions did not ultimately prevent the progress of technology or the Industrial Revolution. The British government responded to their protests with force, and many Luddites were arrested or executed. Additionally, manufacturers found ways to protect their machinery and improve it, making it more difficult for the Luddites to destroy. Over time, the Industrial Revolution continued to expand and change society, leading to significant advancements in manufacturing and transportation. While the Luddites may have slowed down the adoption of technology in some industries, their efforts ultimately proved unsuccessful in halting progress.
The Telegraph (1840s)
The telegraph was a revolutionary invention that allowed people to communicate over long distances through electrical signals. However, when it was first introduced, many people feared it. They thought that the telegraph would destroy their privacy and cause social problems. Some even believed that the telegraph wires would attract lightning and start fires. Despite these fears, the telegraph eventually became widely accepted and important in our communication system. So, what Happened?
Initially, when the telegraph was introduced in the 1840s, people were apprehensive about its potential impact on privacy and society, with some even fearing it could cause fires. However, as people became more familiar with its use and saw its benefits, the telegraph eventually became an accepted and crucial part of our communication system. Over time, the telegraph evolved and advanced, leading to the development of more efficient and sophisticated communication technologies. Today, the telegraph is considered a significant milestone in the history of communication, paving the way for the creation of modern communication technologies like the internet and smartphones.
The Automobile (Late 1800s-early 1900s)
When cars were first invented, they faced a lot of opposition. People were scared that these "horseless carriages" would scare horses, cause accidents, and pollute the air. Some towns even passed laws to limit the use of cars. For example, there was a law in Pennsylvania that required a person to walk in front of a car, waving a red flag to warn people about the approaching vehicle. Eventually, though, cars became an essential part of our lives and many of the fears people had turned out to be unfounded. So, what Happened?
Well, horseless carriages did pollute the air quite badly. So, that happened. But, gratefully we are resolving that issue and yes, probably creating others that we'll have to solve as well.
Over time, as cars became more prevalent, people began to see their benefits and adapt to their presence. Improvements in technology made cars safer and less polluting, and regulations were put in place to ensure their safe operation on roads. As people began to embrace the convenience and speed of cars, the opposition faded away. The once-feared "horseless carriages" became a staple of modern life, changing how people travel and revolutionizing the transportation industry. Today, cars are an essential part of daily life for millions of people around the world.
Nuclear Power (1950s-1960s)
The invention of nuclear power brought a new source of energy that could produce electricity without burning fossil fuels. However, it also raised a lot of concerns. People were afraid that nuclear power plants could explode like atomic bombs, and they worried about the dangers of radiation. Protests against nuclear power plants were common, especially after the accidents at Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986. While there are still concerns about the safety of nuclear power, many countries continue to use it as a major energy source. So, what Happened?
The invention of nuclear power in the 1950s and 1960s provided a new source of energy that could generate electricity without burning fossil fuels. However, it also raised concerns about the safety of nuclear power plants, with fears of potential explosions and radiation dangers. Despite protests against nuclear power plants, accidents such as Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986 highlighted the risks of nuclear power. Despite these concerns, many countries still use nuclear power as a significant energy source, and safety measures have been implemented to minimize risks.
In addition to the concerns and risks associated with nuclear fission, the development of nuclear fusion technology brings a hopeful prospect for clean and sustainable energy. Unlike nuclear fission, which generates energy by splitting atoms, nuclear fusion generates energy by combining two light atomic nuclei, typically hydrogen isotopes, to form a heavier nucleus. This process releases a significant amount of energy while producing no greenhouse gas emissions or long-lived nuclear waste. While nuclear fusion is still in the experimental stage and faces many technical challenges, such as achieving the necessary high temperatures and pressures, significant progress has been made in recent years, and scientists remain hopeful that nuclear fusion could become a viable energy source in the future.
When television first became popular, some people were worried that it would have harmful effects on society. They believed watching TV would make people lazy, damage their eyesight, and lead to moral decay. Parents were especially concerned about the impact of television on children's education and development.
Again, that wasn't all wrong. But, we have and are adjusting. It does take time but we seem to make our way forward in our stops, starts, and stumbles.
Over time, television became a part of everyday life, and people learned to balance their TV-watching habits with other activities. Television has also played a significant role in education and communication, bringing information and entertainment to millions of people around the world. So, what happened?
Over time, people learned to balance their TV-watching habits with other activities, and television became a part of everyday life. Initially, there were concerns that TV would have harmful effects on society, including making people lazy, damaging eyesight, and leading to moral decay. Parents were particularly concerned about the impact of television on children's education and development. However, as television evolved, it played a significant role in education and communication, bringing information and entertainment to millions of people around the world. Ultimately, the concerns about the negative effects of television did not materialize, and it became an essential part of modern society.
The A.I. Surge (Right Now!)
The news that recently came in from Italy that they had banned a specific A.I. technology called ChatGPT. Then, before I could even get this article finished, they let A.I. right back in again. It's not banned anymore.
The A.I. movement has been building up for a long time. Nearly sixty years by some measures.
The field of artificial intelligence has progressed in waves over the last century. Early successes in the 1950s led to inflated expectations, followed by diminishing funding. Renewed optimism and investments in the 1980s produced expert systems but limited real-world impact. Breakthroughs in algorithms and computing in the 2000s led to systems that could solve complex problems such as driving a car or diagnosing an illness. High-profile victories in chess, Jeopardy, and game-playing fueled excitement. Though still limited, AI has demonstrated potential for advanced pattern recognition and optimization with broad benefits to society.
Why is now different? It's different now because the machine, again, speaks like us, interfaces as we do when we talk to one another, and appear to threaten employment (this is a common theme). I saw one estimate by Goldman Sachs today that 300,000,000 jobs are now threatened by A.I.
Global employment estimates in 2022 from Statistica state, "In 2022, there were estimated to be approximately 3.32 billion people employed worldwide, compared with 2.28 billion people in 1991 - an increase of around 1.04 billion people. There was a noticeable fall in global employment between 2019 and 2020 when the number of employed people fell from 3.3 billion to 3.19 billion, likely due to the sudden economic shock caused by the Coronavirus pandemic." Here is the global employment chart since 1991.
That happens to be about three times the number of human beings that were ALIVE in 1804. According to Worldometer, there were about 1,000,000,000 (one billion) people on earth in 1804.
I don't really have any data going back to 1811 or 1804. But I think it's safe to say that global employment has been growing in relative and absolute terms. If 40% of humanity was working, then whatever a full-time equivalent was, then that was about 400,000 humans working their days away compared to 3.3 Billion or so today. Many of the employed people today are what we call knowledge workers. Their jobs WILL CHANGE as a result of A.I. It will and already is happening. Doctors all say they have no time. There has NEVER BEEN a tool like GPT-4 that can assist them in powerful ways. Apparently, it can even make up for a tired and busy doctor's bedside manner.
The knowledge workers, like doctors, that learn the new tools and find ways to work with the machines will still be very valuable for a long time to come.
I recently used GPT-4 to parse the output of a disturbingly complex diagnosis for a family member we could not make sense of simply asking it to restate in "plain English." It did an incredible job. I asked it additional questions. Then, I used my few minutes with the doctor to validate the answers, expand on them, and correct where they were wrong. I did not simply believe the machine. But, I definitely trust the combination of the doctor and the machine; the centaur, as Garry Kasparov called them in 1984 and restated in a slightly different way recently in a blog post titled, "The Real Threat From ChatGPT Isn’t AI…It’s Centaurs." That article, in summary says,
Summary of Kasparov Article (Summary by Pi from InflectionAI at heypi.com)
This article is by Garry Kasparov, a chess grandmaster and AI advocate. He discusses the potential of artificial intelligence to enhance human decision-making, arguing that the real threat from chatbots like GPT-3 isn’t that they will replace humans but rather that they will become an essential tool for humans to make better decisions.He gives examples of how AI is already being used in the medical field and in business to help people make better decisions, and argues that we should not be afraid of this technology but rather embrace it as a tool that can help us achieve our full potential.
"Doomsayers are also common whenever any disruptive technology arrives. Ironically, these naysayers are nearly robotic in their frowny forecasting. They all seem to have two things in common: First, they are always quick to downplay what’s happening, or to overemphasize the negatives. Second, and perhaps more important, they are almost always wrong." (link)
Earth is approaching 8 Billion in population now, with around 40% employment. I couldn't really globally find the employment numbers for 1811. But I suspect this is a relatively stable number (totally guessing here) over time. So, there must be around 3.2 Billion humans employed today in some form.
1811 was the beginning of the Luddite movement. That was 212 years ago. It hasn't really worked out that way just yet. We have good and bad with technology, but ultimately, humanity and its capabilities continue to improve. We are nowhere NEAR where we need to be as a species, and it seems to me there will be room for people that want to keep driving horse and buggy vehicles like the Amish and those that want to strap on a rocket and fly to Mars.
I am optimistic and positive about what the advent of modern artificial intelligence will bring to humanity over time. Like all technologies, they will have good uses and bad. Remember, people were drawn and quartered with horses! That's a bad use of perfectly good technology that changed the world when it was in its prime.
Personally, I will continue to read and respect, and learn from all points of view. But I will continue to build, test, innovate and learn how to leverage these new tools to empower humanity to achieve the future I hope for my children, their children, and all the children born and to be born; a future worthy of living towards. But, most of all, I will play. Every time I encounter new technologies I don't understand, I will put on the jetpack and take off (and try to avoid the Darwin Awards at all costs!)
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