Are Humans Smart Enough?

We humans are quite proud that we’re the smartest species on the planet, but are we smart enough to survive?  Evolution has been characterized as survival of the fittest, but what happens if one species succeeds so well that it kills off all other species and self-destructs?  That’s not very smart, that’s just being cancerous.  The trouble is we don’t think as a species, but as a collection of individuals, and our self-interests are now in conflict with our species best interests.  The Republican party, and many Americans have chosen to just ignore global warming in favor of self-interests.  Is that a realism that we must just accept?  This morning at Vox.com they presented “7 reasons America will fail  on climate change.”

Ezra Klein is totally pessimistic that Americans will change, and he makes quite a good case with his seven reasons why we will fail to do anything significant about climate change.  The trouble is as individuals we don’t change until we’re force to, and it looks like we won’t be force to until after we’ve reached a point of no return.

climate_change_inequality_map

One point that Klein didn’t make is  people who want to be politicians do it for reasons of self-interest and not altruism for the species.  Even if young people start out idealistic about saving the world, the political system corrupts them by forcing them into a game of political self-preservation which corrupts them into selling out.  But we don’t see many save-the-world young people going into politics anyway.  Instead, the newest politicians with the most passion are Tea Party types who want to do just the opposite.

The only counter trend to this pessimistic black hole is technology.  Cars were invented just as cities were about to drown in horseshit.  If clean energy alternatives become way cheaper than carbon producing non-renewable resources then things might change.  But what if there are other technological changes that might help?  What if technology changes politics?  Hasn’t the Internet already changed the political climate?

This will sound silly now, but what if we replaced our political representatives with AI machines?  This will sound facetious, but obviously we’re not smart enough to solve our own problems, so what if it was obvious to all that someone smarter was, a brilliant machine?  Would our individual self-interests vote for it?  Right now politics is more of a personality contest than electing the best person for the job.  What if a robot was an option, one that knew a thousand times more about the issues of your district than any human?

We will always be surprised by unexpected game changers.  Klein might be right, and we’re already defeated, but we never know when a black swan might show up.

JWH – 6/7/14

2 thoughts on “Are Humans Smart Enough?”

  1. It’s true that most people hate change and will only change or act on something, like climate change, when forced to. The Terminator said it best in Judgement Day when reflecting on human behaviour, “It’s in your nature to destroy yourselves.” I also agree with you assessment of modern politics. What you say about the US scene is also true in Australia. The dearth of genuine leaders is very disappointing.

  2. That’s a powerful, if depressing, article, Jim. Thanks for the link.

    The problem with evolution is that it has no foresight. Species go extinct all the time, often by evolving into a dead end. That’s part of the process.

    Human beings should have foresight, but we don’t – not as a species, at least. Plus, we tend to be faith-based, rather than evidence-based, so we believe what we want to believe. It’s a bad combination.

    And the problem with black swans is that they can’t be predicted. Thus, you can’t count on them. You can’t expect a black swan to get us out of a predicament. Indeed, a black swan is just as likely to be a negative – a disaster, rather than a saving discovery.

    I’m pessimistic. But then, I’m old. It’s easy to be pessimistic when you get older. Let’s hope the younger generations are more optimistic, because it would be all too easy just to give up.

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