Central to this concern is the prospect of an “intelligence explosion,” a speculative event in which an A.I. gains the ability to improve itself, and in short order exceeds the intellectual potential of the human brain by many orders of magnitude. ... Such a system would effectively be a new kind of life, and Bostrom’s fears, in their simplest form, are evolutionary: that humanity will unexpectedly become outmatched by a smarter competitor. He sometimes notes, as a point of comparison, the trajectories of people and gorillas: both primates, but with one species dominating the planet and the other at the edge of annihilation. ... Bostrom is arguably the leading transhumanist philosopher today, a position achieved by bringing order to ideas that might otherwise never have survived outside the half-crazy Internet ecosystem where they formed. He rarely makes concrete predictions, but, by relying on probability theory, he seeks to tease out insights where insights seem impossible. ... The people who say that artificial intelligence is not a problem tend to work in artificial intelligence.
“It’s been this way for the last seven years,” since President Obama got into office, says Mike Moore, Westside’s account manager at RSR Group, a large national gun-and-ammunition wholesaler based in Winter Park, Fla. Moore and others in the industry marvel at the staying power of what they call “the Obama surge”—elevated sales driven by the (unfulfilled) fear of tougher federal gun control. ... “There’s four things selling guns at the moment,” says Rocky Fortino, one of Hopkins’s employees. “One: ‘I’m afraid they’re going to make it harder to buy a gun, so I better get one now.’ Two: ‘I’m afraid of home invasions and other violent crime.’ Three: ‘I’m afraid of mass shootings.’ And four: ‘I’m afraid of terrorism.’” ... With an estimated 300 million firearms already in private hands and surveys showing that a third or so of American households possess a gun, one might assume that the consumer market is saturated. “It’s not,” Hopkins says. “Gun owners are buying more guns, and lately we’re seeing some first-time buyers, too.”
The root cause of fear, and how to treat it, has been one of modern psychology’s central questions. In the early twentieth century, Sigmund Freud argued phobias were “protective structures” springing from a patient’s “repressed longing” for his mother. In 1920, however, the American psychologist John B. Watson put forward a simpler theory: People develop fears through negative experiences. To test his hypothesis, he sought to condition an infant, whom he called “Little Albert,” to fear a white rat by presenting the rat to the child and simultaneously striking a steel bar. ... Different types of memories consolidate in different parts of the brain. Explicit memories of life events, for instance, consolidate in the hippocampus, the long, podlike structures near the center of the brain. Emotional memories, including fear, consolidate nearby in the amygdala, which activates the fight-or-flight response when it senses danger. The subjective experience of fear often involves both of these memory systems—a person will consciously remember past experiences while also undergoing several automatic physiological responses, such as increased heart rate—but they operate independently of each other.
If this election cycle is a mirror, then it is reflecting a society choked with fear. It's not just threats of terrorism, economic collapse, cyberwarfare and government corruption – each of which some 70 percent of our citizenry is afraid of, according to the Chapman University Survey on American Fears. It's the stakes of the election itself, with Hillary Clinton at last month's debate conjuring images of an angry Donald Trump with his finger on the nuclear codes, while Trump warned "we're not going to have a country" if things don't change. ... Meanwhile, the electorate is commensurately terrified of its potential leaders. According to a September Associated Press poll, 56 percent of Americans said they'd be afraid if Trump won the election, while 43 percent said they'd be afraid if Clinton won – with 18 percent of respondents saying they're afraid of either candidate winning. ... Around the globe, household wealth, longevity and education are on the rise, while violent crime and extreme poverty are down. In the U.S., life expectancy is higher than ever, our air is the cleanest it's been in a decade, and despite a slight uptick last year, violent crime has been trending down since 1991. ... For mass media, insurance companies, Big Pharma, advocacy groups, lawyers, politicians and so many more, your fear is worth billions. And fortunately for them, your fear is also very easy to manipulate. We're wired to respond to it above everything else. If we miss an opportunity for abundance, life goes on; if we miss an important fear cue, it doesn't. ... in order to resist being manipulated by those who spread fear for personal, political and corporate gain, it's necessary to understand it.
Survivalism, the practice of preparing for a crackup of civilization, tends to evoke a certain picture: the woodsman in the tinfoil hat, the hysteric with the hoard of beans, the religious doomsayer. But in recent years survivalism has expanded to more affluent quarters, taking root in Silicon Valley and New York City, among technology executives, hedge-fund managers, and others in their economic cohort. ... In private Facebook groups, wealthy survivalists swap tips on gas masks, bunkers, and locations safe from the effects of climate change. ... impulses are not as contradictory as they seem. Technology rewards the ability to imagine wildly different futures ... How many wealthy Americans are really making preparations for a catastrophe? It’s hard to know exactly; a lot of people don’t like to talk about it. ... That night, I slept in a guest room appointed with a wet bar and handsome wood cabinets, but no video windows. It was eerily silent, and felt like sleeping in a well-furnished submarine.
- Also: The New Yorker - A Bigger Problem Than ISIS? > 15min
- Also: Edelman - An Implosion of Trust < 5min
- Also: The Atlantic - Is Middle America Due For a Huge Earthquake? 5-15min
- Repeat: The New Yorker - The Really Big One: An earthquake will destroy a sizable portion of the coastal Northwest. The question is when. 5-15min