Any of the existential risks that Humanity faces give us good cause to create our epitaph in some indelible fashion for the benefit of anyone or anything that has the curiosity and sufficient technological ability to explore the universe. Considering the many possibilities of annihilation from nuclear accidents, environmental meltdowns, genetic damage to people and crops, war, or just a big rock falling out of the sky, we need to develop a greater sense of urgency around directing our fate. The technologies being developed today around machine learning and Artificial Intelligence may seem to be in their infancy, but the ground work is being laid for many developments that defy prediction, except that we can say with certainty that they include the potential for our destruction.
Now is the time to draw attention to what developments are taking place, in secret, in the back offices of tech companies and government labs. We should be closely, and publicly, examining every scrap of information that leaks out and evaluating how they add to the acceleration and potential consequences of the sum total. Like the Doomsday Clock developed and maintained by the members of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientist’s Science and Security Board, we will need a system to evaluate and represent this information. The simple representation of the Doomsday Clock is woefully inadequate to capture and represent the nature and breadth of the challenges of these evolving technologies. More importantly, the representation must reach beyond the scientific elite and be able to engage citizens from all walks of life. Ultimately, any evaluation and representation must feed into and help create a large and well informed segment of society with the ability to openly debate the purpose and risks of any given technology and take actionable measures in response. Having a system in place is the first step to shedding light on what is right now an unconstrained gold rush for economic and technology hegemony over our society without regard to the longer term potential for damage.
Right now, while the technologies that may present the greatest challenge to our existence are only in their infancy, is the time to use our imagination on how to direct our inventions wisely and not be seduced by technology for the sake of technology and the associated power, influence and wealth that are blindly driving progress today. The Humanity Beacon Project offers one possibility to engage on this vital mission. One aspect of the project can certainly be the chronicling of our progress or failure to be the masters of our own creations. The symbolic construction of the Beacon leading to its eventual launch may be a way to reflect how we as a society have addressed our challenges. The changing message and content of the beacon can reflect our progress, challenges and threats, with the countdown to launch hopefully never being completed.