Australians no longer see the future in a positive light. But that can change – and it starts with technology | Peter Lewis

We routinely invite our elected representatives to look beyond the three-year election cycle and govern with the interests of our children and perhaps even our future grandchildren in mind.

But what does long-term thinking really entail?

Moral philosopher William McCaskill makes the case That if science is our guide, the real long-term thinking is about million-year horizons.

Of course, we first need to avoid extinction events that typically occur every 700,000 years or so for mammal species. But except for climate collapse and nuclear annihilation (“ifs” of admitted importance), there is no reason not to believe that humanity is still in the very early stages of our journey.

These kinds of timeframes are mind-boggling suggestions that, once unpacked, require deeper commitments than moving from fossil fuels to renewables. Like a reverse time machine, everything that happens will matter forever.

“Do the long-term consequences of our actions wear off over time, like ripples in a pond?” MacAskill asks what we owe the future. “No. Instead, every year, like clumsy gods, we radically change the course of history.”

In keeping with MacAskill’s mindset, we asked Guardian participants this week basic survey To think about whether future time horizons will be positive or negative for humanity (although we have limited our framework to ten thousand years, relatively conservative).

Thinking about the future, do you think life will be better or worse for humanity in 10 years, 100 years, 1000 years and 10,000 years.

Some things stand out here. First, we are more negative about the short term (the next decade) than the long term. Unsurprisingly, the more we look, the less certainty we have. But what amazes me most is that the consensus is that the future is more balanced between bad than good: the modernist cliché of the Jetsons’ illustrious future has faded into something darker.

How do we anticipate a happier and more prosperous future in the long run? For McCaskill, the key is to avoid what he describes as “value stabilization” by preserving the diversity of cultures, political systems, and possible alternative paths to civilization.

He assumes that the climate challenge is likely to be resolved in some way; Even if there are extreme and catastrophic events, humanity will likely continue – even if in dramatically reduced numbers.

Even more important is how quickly we develop artificial general intelligence, which is the inflection point where machines become self-managing and beyond human control, choosing and locking up their own paths of innovation and change for the long term.

Moving too quickly toward artificial general intelligence without long-term sound thinking and our path as a species is effectively determined, with our biometric identities controlled by systems that will develop their own logic as they build on themselves devoid of human agency.

I’ve been reading MacAskill’s book against the backdrop of the Optus data breach and the passing of a Model Law on Facial Recognition Technology, developed by a team led by UTS professor and former Human Rights Commissioner Ed Santow.

On the other hand, the personal information of up to 10 million Australians, including information that could be used to “prove identity”, appears to have been hacked in a hack that appears, on the surface, ordinary in its lack of sophistication.

After years of deadlock, regulators and lawmakers are calling for privacy reform as Australians wonder not only what they agree to when they tap consent boxes, but, more presciently, why they are being asked to hand over so many things to so many different organizations.

On the other hand, Australian academics have developed a world-leading framework to limit the kinds of decisions that can be made based on the interpretation of our faces, crucially giving regulators the ability to look under the guise of artificial intelligence and understand how automated systems work. Designer.

These laws are hard to come by because both governments and companies have built valuable narratives around the extraction and monetization of personal information. Our identities have become a resource that is mined, purified, and then stored for some even now for future use.

The Optus breach has opened an Overton window where we may have the opportunity not only to speed up our privacy laws, largely untouched in 40 years, but to slow long-term incursions into our own personal footprints.

A separate question in this week’s report shows that the public is ready to fundamentally tighten these laws.

Regardless of whether you were personally affected by the Optus data breach, how worried would you be that fraudsters would steal your personal information and use it in the table.

These numbers indicate that the Albanian government is now in a position to roll back the entrenched interests in the media, politics and business that will seek to maintain excerpts from these rules.

Most importantly, the Optus hack shifted the focus from the needs of those who collect our data to the rest of us, who are the unwilling recruits in this race to capture and control our core.

While a quick response would be to increase penalties for data mishandling and further enhance resources for the cybersecurity industry, there is now a golden opportunity for more transformative reform.

This might involve imagining ways in which we can control our identity and provide one-time access to others for verification, either through a secure government identification system or personal data protocols over the Internet, which the father of the Internet, Tim Berners-Lee, has commanded, advocates now.

This transformative remedial potential is currently up to the moderate attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, who, like Michael J. Fox, could unleash a chain of events that could slow the seemingly inseparable march of AI.

Building friction points in the data acquisition economy, giving individuals the right to control how their identities are extracted and exploited, building in protective barriers and enforcing red lines; This is a protection for our diversity, and ultimately for our humanity.

Like clumsy gods, the decisions we make today will shape the future happiness of not only the next generation, but if MacAskill is right, those that will remain for the next millennia.

  • Peter Lewis is CEO of Essential, a progressive strategic communications and research company. He will discuss the findings of the latest Guardian Essential Report at 1pm today with Guardian Policy Editor Catherine Murphy and Managing Director of the Australia Institute Ebony Bennett. Free registration here

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