Never A Dull Moment: Entering The Fourth Age

The notion of a fourth age, what an interesting and very relevant topic!!

I’m probably not the only one noticing the not so subtle increase in self service machines and reduction in humanly manned check out tills in shops/banks/post offices these days, or the general creeping momentum around all things ‘smart’ and the ushering in of a robotic era.

Entering the Fourth Age has certainly picked up on all of this and much much more!!

We’ve all heard one story or another in the mainstream media about robots – someone showed me an article about a popular one the other day (I can’t remember it’s name, a female robot that looks like a real living flesh and blood person, I think it was Sophia) that has been granted citizenship in it’s place of ‘manufacture’ (I’m assuming) – I guess that means it can travel abroad with a passport just like a human being and then return ‘home’ again to it’s native country, a bit like pets… except this robot is autonomous. Get your head around that…..👾

Just a thought, human rights, animal rights computer rights…..

There are debates about introducing microchips to professional athletes to catch out the guilty drug cheats and using AI to advance modern healthcare, such as a prosthetic arm controlled by the human brain – useful, helpful and well meaning!

Imagine being able to simply ‘think’ the lights on in your home!!!! 😳💡

We’re living in a smart world

Terms like artificial intelligence (AI) and transhumanism are becoming more and more commonplace when reading about modern day advancements in all aspects of tech; and of course 5G is all the rage, while everything is becoming ‘smart’, ‘digital’ and wireless.

It would seem that this smartness knows no limits.

I hear drones will likely replace a lot of manpower by delivering our online purchases (when they’re not playing havoc around airports, that is). Apparently Amazon are pretty much ready to get going with drone deliveries aka ‘Prime Air’, but not all countries are ready to take the leap and authorise this futuristic method….there are still issues around granting permission and amending existing regulations around it.

Maybe we should go back to building houses with chimneys, not for fires, but to be used as drone drop points 🏡

What about jobs?

Despite the common first impression: more robots = fewer jobs for people, there are those who argue strongly that this won’t be the case, we’ll simply find that different jobs (or activities within a role) replace redundant ones. It’s just an evolution.

On the other hand, where people are no longer needed for certain jobs,  profits might increase and fall into the hands of big bosses and shareholders, with little or nothing filtering down. So what about the impact of the fourth age on existing inequalities and the creation of new inequalities…..there’s plenty of sociological food for thought on that one!

Another perspective on this is the idea that there wouldn’t be a shortage of jobs, instead it is the human desire to have more money to purchase more ‘wants’ that drives the notion of a lack of jobs. People could choose to survive on less money, work fewer hours, leaving more jobs for everyone else – but it would mean sacrificing the standards they have become accustomed to (e.g. designer clothes, travel/holidays, expensive cars, eating out, private school fees etc). Less consumerism, more jobs for everyone?

But what about those who are barely getting by on full time hours, without any luxuries?

Change

The world has changed rapidly in a short space of time, and change seems like it will be characteristically more rapid moving forward.

I’ve noticed the term ‘fourth age’ and ‘fourth industrial revolution’ becoming buzz phrases in discussions about the world of work, and within various professional sectors when talking about future changes in the work place.

The fourth age isn’t exclusive to work places, it will likely impact on everyone through various arteries of every day life.

Go Deep

To really get a grip on issues of the fourth age, you will probably need to establish your stance on a few fundamentals – your values and beliefs about the world and life in general.

In this book, Reese highlights or at least gets you thinking about whether you see the world through:

  • hard science tinted glasses
  • dualist glasses ( a combination of physical/scientific and mental realities)
  • a spiritual/religious zoom lens that overrides or combines with other lenses.

The mind and the brain are seemingly two different things, yet in many ways the brain is still a complex mystery to much of modern science – how then can any robot truly compete?

What about the soul? 👀

Byron Reese explores these themes and more in his book The Fourth Age.

As Reese rightly points out, the way we perceive and makes sense of life, humanity, and the universe in general, will very likely govern our views on artificial intelligence and the swift advancements in technology that we are experiencing and anticipating today.

Regardless of our personal stand points, the AI movement is an ever growing reality in today’s world.

Thought provoking to say the least!

There are certainly a few brow raising statements, facts and and hypothetical questions in this book – it’s sure to spark some interesting thoughts and conversations.

Can computers ever feel pain, can they become conscious? 💻

Will robots evolve to a point where they self-compute, think for themselves, loaded with every piece of information available on the internet and more?

“An AGI could then create ever better versions of itself at the speed of light, while humans can improve only at the speed of life……they’d possess super intelligence….it may be as far ahead of us as we are ahead of ants”  pg 184. Wow!! What are we playing with here?

“Once machines reach the critical stage of being able to evolve themselves, we cannot predict whether their goals will be the same as ours” Stephen Hawking pg. 183.

Terminator 

Isn’t it a scary thought that military around the world are working hard to build better and better killer robots? What if there’s a glitch in their programming and they start attacking innocent people 😬

There are stories on line about alleged AI robotics that sound very far fetched – i.e. military robots in a lab attacking scientists in the lab – even after one of them had been dismantled – the robot supposedly communicated with satellites and fixed itself without any human intervention….doesn’t this sound like something weirdly close to consciousness? 😯

A shift in humanity as we know it

What if people start forming emotional attachments to robots whilst those we have with humans begin to dwindle?

What about a more transhumanist AI route then…just upload a computer into the human brain – of course, perfect harmony!! Arguments around this suggest it could only work if the computer was able to read human thoughts and communicate messages through to the brain as quickly as we think and process thoughts…..hmmmm, to read thoughts is to read the mind, read the soul, not to mention the questions about potential risks to attempting this, biological risks to the human species.

Is this world on the road to redefining humanity? Reese asks this question and many others in this book – honestly, once you start hearing more about it you start to realise what a complex path the fourth age is taking, and a boldly ambitious one at that.

In this book, the author offers a perspective on the ages gone by so far  – the first age (of fire and language), the second age (of agriculture and cities), the third age (of writing and wheels), followed by an exploration of the issue at hand, the fourth age. The book leans a little more toward an academic text book slant, with accounts of studies carried out by various theorists – but the main thread of each chapter is pretty easy to catch 📖

I’m sure there are countless books on this subject, I just happened to come across this one.

Utopia and dystopia combined???

Like most things, there are certainly pros and cons to advancements in technology – some think it is the answer to a better world, others (myself included) are a little nervous about this new way, particularly in light of the potential for malfunction or even abuse of/by super technology  – perhaps there is a middle ground….or are we slowly overstepping the line?

Farfetched?

When you read around this subject in general, you can’t help getting the feeling that the world around us is quickly becoming everything we thought was once limited to the confines of science fiction movies 📺

Got me thinking…..

The current debates are heated and confusing with arguments coming from polar opposite perspectives – there are so many variables to consider on the issue, it’s a minefield. The entire movement seems to be paved with good intentions but there are undoubtedly more questions than answers (as the song goes) and a lot that we cannot foresee, we can only take the plunge and hope for the best – and I get the feeling that’s what’s happening.

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