Day 4:  What Is Truth?

People quit their jobs every day for all kinds of reasons, but few do so because they worry that their work threatens to dismantle society and hurry the demise of humankind. This week Geoffrey Hinton quit his job for that reason.

 Hinton has been called the “godfather of the Artificial Intelligence (AI) movement”.  Working most recently for Google, this brilliant engineer has been developing systems that one day will all but ensure that artificial intelligence (AI) will be running the place.  Hinton wants out because he is worried.  He believes that humankind is not prepared for the AI revolution that is to come.  In his own words, “I believe that the rapid progress of AI is going to transform society in ways we do not fully understand and not all of the effects are going to be good”.    

When the guy who created something tells us to fear it, we should all be taking note.  (Note:  I don’t get why people worry about a zombie apocalypse when all evidence points to the fact that if there is an apocalypse its more likely to come from your laptop than some flesh eating monsters.  You may think Siri is cute now, but wait until you are doing her bidding rather than the other way around!). 

But Hinton’s greatest worry is not that AI will make pilots, surgeons, administrators, bus drivers, etc. obsolete (which it likely will) but rather he foresees a future in which we will no longer be able to discern what is true or real.  Truth will lose its meaning as we will no longer be able to figure out what is real and what is artificial.

In the Bible, when Jesus is standing before Pilate who holds his fate in his hands, Pilate asks Jesus, “what is truth?”  Jesus, perhaps sensing it was a rhetorical question, chooses not to answer him.  But it’s a good question.  Actually, it’s more than a good question, it’s an essential question.  AI aside, I think truth has been under fire for awhile now.  Of all the mind-numbing things Donald Trump has said and done, few top his persistent effort to make truth a matter of opinion rather than fact. He seems to believe that truth is in the eye of the beholder, and if you are loud enough and brash enough, you can make truth conform to your will, rather than the opposite way around.

Pilate’s question is one that we all must grapple with at some point – what is truth?  As the very idea of truth get blurred in our ever-evolving world, maybe it’s incumbent upon all of us to find our own truths in which we can nest.  This is what I came up with for me:

  1. Spring shows up every year. It may be late, and it may come and go for a bit, but it arrives.  We can count on it!
  2. Fear is real, and love is real.  We live between these two truths.  We decide every day which one we will follow.  I have found when I choose love, fear backs down.
  3. A walk in the woods, a good book, a London Fog tea, a moving piece of music, a good laugh, sitting in a Muskoka chair by a lake, always makes me feel better.

I know #3 is a bit corny, but its true!  At least it’s true for me.  And while my little truths are hardly a defence against the AI revolution that seems to be inevitable, they allow me to function, thrive and find joy in my tiny oasis of life.   

What is truth? A very, very good question.