In the great movie Prometheus, the android David engages in a very interesting conversation with Dr. Holloway.
Holloway: You think we wasted our time coming here, don’t you?
David: Your question depends on me understanding what you hoped to achieve by coming here.
Holloway: What we hoped to achieve was to meet our makers. To get answers. Why they even… made us in the first place.
David: Why do you think your people made me?
Holloway: Because we could.
David: Can you imagine how disappointing it would be… to hear the same thing from your creator?
Regardless of how philosophical and intellectual arguments we construct backwards, the reality is that in both societal and individual lives, we do many things only because we can. It’s that simple. What happens next is that the luxury of one generation becomes a necessity for the next. Imagine just a little over 100 years ago, there was no electricity in homes.
A straightforward example is the wireless network 5G, which is here because we could upgrade 4G. It will spawn an unprecedented number of astonishing applications without which our children will not be able to imagine their lives. It doesn’t matter that people of my generation grew up in an era without any wireless networks. But we still had the electricity and many other luxuries our previous generations couldn’t even think about.
Similarly, we are making drones and self-driving cars because we can. We are experimenting with new biotech ventures because we can. The same goes for robots and artificial intelligence. What are their exact impacts on the society? Nobody knows. We will find out. And every nation is doing it out of fear that if they curb their ambitious plans, the others will still go ahead.
In his second phenomenal book Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, Yuval Harari compares ourselves with our ancestors from an energy consumption point of view.
In the Stone Age, the average human had at his or her disposal about 4,000 calories of energy per day. This included not only food, but also the energy invested in preparing tools, clothing, art and campfires. Today Americans use on average 228,000 calories of energy per person per day, to feed not only their stomachs but also their cars, computers, refrigerators and televisions. The average American thus uses sixty times more energy than the average Stone Age hunter- gatherer. Is the average American sixty times happier? We may well be sceptical about such rosy views.
Why don’t we think about the impact on the planet? The first truth is that it is difficult to think much when money is consistently arriving into the bank accounts. Everyone thinks that others have a clue of where they’re going but nobody has. The other truth is that almost anything over the basic hunter gatherer lifestyle is dangerous for the planet. In my opinion, we will try to turn back but that will be too late.