By Jim Towey
A new year always brings hope to America. We are hard-wired to believe that better days are ahead and that no problem facing our country is insurmountable. That can-do spirit explains how our republic has weathered nearly 250 years of non-stop, monumental challenge and remains the greatest nation on earth.
Unfortunately, our native optimism may have met its match. For starters, the economy is in worse shape than our leaders would like us to believe. Inflated prices remain high and tacking higher, which punishes the elderly and disabled who live on fixed incomes. Surging interest rates make home buying a luxury only the wealthy can afford. Unemployment rates are expected to rise as “stagflation,” if not a recession, settles in. Underlying the economic woes is a national debt that has topped $31 trillion, thanks to the reckless federal response to Covid, and most recently, to the phony “Inflation Reduction Act.” The 2022 trustees report of Social Security which was released last month again reported insolvency about a decade from now for the retirement system. Medicare’s future is even bleaker; its insolvency is expected by 2028, if not sooner.
Congress and the Biden administration seem uninterested. They fiddled with impeachment proceedings and investigations of the disgraced Donald Trump and pursued for two-years an expensive investigation of the obvious regarding January 6, 2021 (did we really need to spend a fortune to conclude a band of nuts vandalized the Capitol at the urging of a sore loser president known for his thuggery?). Congress spent the last three years spending trillions it didn’t have and focusing on Covid strategies we now know were harmful and foolish.
Artificial Intelligence creeps forward
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, secretly, all over the world, the march of artificial intelligence and technological “progress” continues unchecked and poses a grave threat to humanity’s ability to remain human. Once content with merely displacing blue collar workers, technology and A.I. may soon displace humans in other fields of employment – even creative ones.
I was happy to see in the Wall Street Journal yesterday an opinion piece penned by U.S. President Joe Biden that calls Democrats and Republicans to unite against “big tech abuses.” I hope this is a sincere initiative on his part and not simply an exercise in damage control over how his White House pressured Twitter and Facebook to censor individuals whose messaging on Covid didn’t toe the administration line, using the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and his health agencies to intimidate, harass and ultimately silence critics. I hope that as President Biden leads an effort to rein in big tech, he will publicly acknowledge and apologize for how his administration worked hand-in-hand with the social media companies to ban dissent, not unlike how China or Cuba silences its critics.
Big questions ahead
Time is of the essence. Will the new Republican-led House of Representatives engage in trendy, trifling matters while neglecting the clear and present ethical and moral questions being decided by unelected machine learning engineers, data scientists, business intelligence developers, big data architects, researchers, and the money-grubbing corporations employing them? The tyranny of technology and its A.I. masters is no remote threat. Don’t we citizens already feel the chains of slavish adherence to technology and the soul-sapping loss of social connection that it brings?
Over the Christmas holidays I read Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, a 1953 dystopian novel that has much to say about what a big tech/government partnership can mean for human freedom and flourishment. Bradbury’s “mechanical hound” growls at our door. The visionary author knew where technological advances and governmental abuses would lead, and how entertainment and comfort would lull the citizenry to complacency. “If the government is inefficient, top-heavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it,” one authority observed. Shouldn’t we be a bit worried about our own government and how technology is being used to deny us information and freedom?
Bradbury’s heroes worked to rebuild society and re-humanize it. Here’s hoping 2023 serves as a wake-up call for America to the clear and present dangers that A.I. and all-powerful technology pose to the very qualities that make us human. More on this in future blogs.