If AI has taken over the world, would it let you know? That is the question I got from reading “The Seventh Sense: Power, Fortune, and Survival in the Age of Networks”. If you want history lessons about how power works this is a book to read. If you want to read a book of who will be in power in the future, this is a book to read. If you are looking for answers, this is not the book to read.
Flux is the only constant
Not sure how to describe the book. It gives you lessons in history in a “what go you here, won’t get you there” kind of way. At the early moments in a new revolution, most of the leaders are blind. But if you examine the Roman Empire, Chinese dynasties, Assyrian or Mughal kingdoms, Industrial revolutions, you will find that the lesson is there. Flux is the only constant.
Networks are winning
Big, expensive, and well-designed systems that thrived and dominated for decades now increasingly find themselves demolished by new, fast-moving forces that live on networks. You can’t arrest a network.
We are in the age of constant connection. Not only as a mere economic fact. It has become a feature of our personalities and psychologies and even the biochemistry of our brains. To be disconnected, in so many senses, hurts.
The nature of the connections itself is changing. It is becoming instant. It is increasingly sharpened and enhanced by the use of artificial intelligence. Flux at speed. Moving from complicated mechanisms to complex systems. Chaos engineering. You are as complex as the most complex device that you are linked to. Every electronic handshake is now a risk.
The advice to avoid the risk:
RULE ONE: Do not own a computer.
RULE TWO: Do not power it on.
RULE THREE: Do not use it
Our current leaders still think in terms of disconnected dangers. Our era is one of connected crises. Small fractures anywhere in a network can now cause massive and even fatal collapse. The power of a pinprick. Tiny forces can have immense impacts. Imagine waves of networked autonomous armed drones against an aircraft carrier. Who do you think will win?
The difference this time is that normally revolutions are loud. Guns and machines. This one is potentially quiet. Hackers used to be loud too. The holy grail now is to silently infiltrate the systems and have access for as long as possible. Imagine what very fast networks and artificial intelligence and black boxes and the new gatekeepers (winners take all) and compression of time (the distance between Moscow and St Petersburg is about 0.3 milliseconds on a light-speed fibre-optic cable) and everyday objects connected and weapons can do together. At light speed. Do you think an immensely clever AI will be loud when it takes over? Maybe it already has, we just don’t know it yet.
Here is an example from the book for you to think about:
So imagine this research fused with machine-human interaction: A computer has been assigned to review the medical options for your failing liver. It decides that it makes no sense to give you a new one. It spends the weeks before it delivers this news, however, using its AI to show your vacation photos, play music it knows is likely to soften you up, generally to manipulate you with news of charitable acts in your data stream. All the while, it runs off-the-shelf language-analysis neural webs—already being used today—to eavesdrop on your customer-support calls and your chats with doctors to see just how much you really know about your health. Then it tells you something you’d never accept so easily from a doctor: No liver available. Sorry. And you agree. Here’s a machine optimised not to make paper clips—which we couldn’t care less about—but to provide a public good most of us support: more efficient health care. And murdering you in the process.
The most important things that will happen in our lives will happen in secret.
In some ways this book is a summary of “Overconnected”, “Reputation Economics”, “The Network always wins”, “Filter Bubble” and “The Third Wave”.
The question to ask
How will power distribute itself among those systems? What sort of politics will be derived to serve the tools of AI and fast-moving networks? And maybe it already too late.