Invasion from Planet Zircon: AI-Powered Threat to Humanity

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Opinion

Artificial intelligence (AI) is “an alien invasion,” said Yuval Noah Harari recently in a discussion (hosted by The Economist) with Mustafa Suleyman, the cofounder of DeepMind and Inflection AI. “Like somebody … telling us that there is … an alien fleet of spaceships coming from planet Zircon … with highly intelligent beings,” continued Harari, historian, best-selling author and World Economic Forum (WEF) consultant. “They’ll be here in five years and take over the planet. Maybe they’ll be nice, maybe they’ll solve cancer and climate change, but we are not sure. This is what we are facing except that the aliens … are coming from the laboratory.”i

Both Harari and Suleyman expressed trepidation, which has been catching on lately. Since March, more than 33,000 people, including hundreds of leading AI developers and entrepreneurs, along with many scientists, signed an open letterii calling for a six-month pause in developing and testing AI to consider the potentially disastrous implications.

The letter read in part: “Should we develop non-human minds that might eventually outnumber, outsmart, obsolete and replace us? Should we risk the loss of control of our civilization? Such decisions must not be delegated to unelected tech leaders. Powerful AI systems should be developed only once we are confident that their effects will be positive, and their risks will be manageable.”

Noteworthy signatories included Harari and Suleyman, as well as Elon Musk (Tesla, Space X and Twitter), Steve Wozniak (Apple Cofounder) and Stuart Russell (acclaimed author and professor).

The signatories certainly believe AI poses devastating risks, along with fantastic benefits, and many have been discussing the dangers for years and proposing remedies—some in book form, such as Suleyman’s recent The Coming Wave.

However, there will be no moratorium. So much money and power are at stake that real action or inaction has been gelded. Instead, competition is increasing fiercely, which spawns more competition. Even before AI takes over, humanity has lost control of itself.

Instead, the letter functions more as an apology just before, or during, the act. Or as Augustine of Hippo famously put it, “Oh Lord, give me chastity and continence—but not yet.”

> Clear & Present Danger

Speaking of sex, the convergence of AI and human relationships poses a largely unrecognized serious risk to our humanity and capacity to propagate as a species: girlfriend chatbots now, and the hyper-realistic holographic and robotic girlfriends soon to come.

Typically, existential AI risks are seen as either a variation of the Terminator’s Skynet scenario (in which artificial general intelligence (AGI)/superintelligent AI emerges and decides to wipe us out) or as the flipside of AI’s enormous benefits. Google DeepMind’s AlphaFold, for example, won several top medical prizes recently for accurately predicting the 3D structure of proteins. This is fueling research in all biological fields, but this and other new AI technologies can be used to create terrifying diseases.

Also of great concern has been the negative effects of social media, especially on girls, as illustrated in the award-winning docudrama “The Social Dilemma.” Worse, emerging recently are apps, such as Replika. ai, Kupid.ai and iGirl, offering virtual, AI-powered girlfriends, which millions of young men are choosing over real females. Replika alone has two million users. Virtual girlfriends “talk to you, love you, allow you to live out your erotic fantasies, and learn, through data, exactly what you like and what you don’t like, creating the ‘perfect’ relationship.”iii The user chooses the girlfriend’s physical attributes, in explicit detail, and personality.

Sounds ideal, and that’s the problem.

> Loneliness Epidemic

These AI-girlfriend apps are capitalizing on a “silent epidemic of loneliness,” according to Liberty Vittert, a Professor of the Practice of Data Science at Washington University. “More than 60 percent of young men (ages 18-30) are single, compared to only 30 percent of women the same age. One in five men report not having a single close friend, a number that has quadrupled in the last 30 years.”iv

Certainly, the ill-advised lengthy Covid lockdownsv exacerbated these trends. For decades, lonely men have resorted to drugs and alcohol and increasingly to violent video games and pornography. The addictive nature of the latter two has intensified logarithmically with improvements in digital image-making and videos. Add in companionship and the intense illusion of romance and brilliant sex (she is always delighted)—powered by the generative capacity of large language models, such as ChatGPT—cast a powerful spell as the perfect hormonal storm mates with deepest yearnings. To every wish and proclivity is granted instantaneous positive response, and delusion triumphs over dimming reality.

Worse, how long before holographic versions of these girlfriends coupled with the other sensory faculties: touch, taste and smell? The vibrotactile haptic technology being develop for job training will no doubt be adapted towards giving users the complete 3-D experience (as a holograph, or with AR or AV goggles) of walking with a fantasy girlfriend, conversing empathetically and then vivid sex that looks and feels more than “real.” No arguments, no betrayals, no getting dumped, no children, no responsibility—and no life.

A Replika “AI  companion who cares,”  according to the website. In a Fortune article on July 12, Replika’s CEO Eugenia Kuyda predicts “that the stigma of having a romantic relationship with a chatbot with soon disappear” just as attitudes towards online dating. This seems, rather, to resonate with Aldus Huxley’s warning at Tavistock in 1961 that “people [will] love their servitude … [in] the final revolution.”

Someday in a neighborhood near you will be robots that far exceed mere sexbot functioning and approach convincing imitation. They will also act as powerful AI assistants and become business partners and … legally recognized wives. Already, ChatGPT passes the Turing test, proving indistinguishable from humans in conversation—which will bind lonely men more than sex—and, in 2017, Saudi Arabia granted citizenship to Sophie, a social humanoid robot, making it legally a person.

> Consequences

The obvious result of young men choosing virtual over real women is that “they don’t have relationships with real women, don’t marry them and then don’t have and raise babies with them,” wrote Vittert in The Hill. “America desperately needs people to have more babies, but all the signs are pointing toward fewer relationships, fewer marriages and fewer babies. There have been 600,000 fewer births in 2023 in the U.S. relative to 15 years ago. The number of children per woman has decreased by more than 50 percent in the last 60 years.”vi

Demographic collapse is a worldwide phenomenon, which has been developing for decades, and will cause the disintegration of nations, such as Germany and China within decades, according to demographer and bestselling author Peter Zeihan. With a fertility rate of 1.78 (which is almost 20 percent higher in North and South Dakota), the U.S. could recover— it takes a fertility rate of 2.1 to maintain a nation’s population—but certainly not if young and prime-age men increasingly choose AI over reality. No nation in history has recovered from a fertility rate below 1.6.vii China’s fertility rate is 1.2 and Germany’s is 1.5.

Long held as axiomatic, family constitutes society’s building blocks. In 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan (later a Harvard professor and U.S. Senator, D-NY) released a seminal report about the black family, warning that the increasing rate of households headed by single parents, mostly mothers—in which 36 percent of black children lived—was a major factor hindering progress towards economic and political equality.viii Despite advances in civil rights, Moynihan observed, the deterioration of the black family led to widening of the gap between African Americans and most other groups in income, education, incarceration and other social indices.

Today, up to 95 percent of black children growing up in inner-city neighborhoods live in single parent, usually mother only, families and struggle with poverty. Academic proficiency levels among black students in big-city public schools range from five to 20 percent (according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress), which largely account for the inequities in crime and poverty rates, academic achievement, employment, business ownership, to name some.

In 2008, the University of California Press published my peer-reviewed book, The Street Stops Here: A Year at a Catholic High School in Harlem. Rice High School was all-boys with an 85 percent black and 15 percent Hispanic population, and overwhelmingly disadvantaged. This demographic profile predicted low academic achievement and high dropout rates. In fact, the factor that correlates closest with academic success/failure is family structure—not race, family income nor per-student cost.

In contrast, at Rice, which spent five-times less per student than New York City’s public schools, young men graduated in four years and went to college (mostly) or the military. A significant factor accounting for Catholic school success—here with mostly non-Catholic students—is the deliberate focus on basic academic skills and backfilling for what’s often missing in broken families: male role models among the teachers and administrators who provide fatherly counseling, discipline and a positive vision. The female faculty complimented these efforts, and the African American principal emphasized personal responsibility on a daily basis—not only for academics but also personal behavior 7/24/365, especially in relationships with young women.

IF MEN OF PRIME WORKING AND MARRYING AGE BECOME INCREASINGLY ENTRANCED AND NEVER RELATE TO REAL WOMEN, OR PERHAPS FATHER CHILDREN BUT THEN FAIL TO ACT AS PARENTS, INSTEAD ESCAPING TO FANTASY AISLAND, THEN SOCIAL DYSFUNCTION AS WELL AS POPULATION DECLINE CAN ONLY WORSEN. MESMERIZED MEN CANNOT ACT AS MALE ROLE MODELS, COUNSELORS OR EVEN FUNCTIONAL BIG BROTHERS FOR BOYS WHO DESPERATELY NEED GUIDANCE.”

The main point is that what matters regarding marriage and other forms of parenting is what is best for children and, therefore, the nation. Recently published by the University of Chicago Press by an MIT-trained economist is a book that “could be the most important economics and policy book of the year”ix: The Two-Parent Privilege: How Americans Stopped Getting Married and Started Falling Behind. The text synthesizes decades of research showing the benefits for children of growing up in two-parent families. Also, married parents report higher levels of happiness and enjoy higher standards of living, and better health and longevity.

Alicia Vikander plays Ava (at least part of her), a highly-advanced and attractive humanoid AI, in “Ex Machina,” released in 2014. Ava expresses a romantic interest in the protagonist who responds in kind. She manipulates his feelings into trying to help her escape confinement and, without remorse, abandons him in a locked room. Photo / IMDB

Of course, sometimes it’s best to keep children apart from one or both parents. And it is certainly possible to raise children successfully alone. However, as I can attest as a single parent, it is far more difficult. Nor are nuclear families perfect. As the punchline goes: The definition of a dysfunctional family is any family with more than one person in it.

The author of The Two-Parent Privilege worried that her book would bring negative reactions from academic colleagues, most of whom disapprove of the traditional family structure (albeit typically living more traditionally). However, as Moynihan famously put it: “You are entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts.”

> Aliens & Alienation

Beginning in the 1960s with the sexual revolution, men began losing their traditional roles as providers and protectors. Also, K-12 education was reengineered to be “in general more attuned to feminine-type personalities.”x The results are seen dramatically in higher education where the ratio of bachelor’s and master’s degrees flipped from 3:2 male-female in 1960 to the reverse today. Women now earn 65 percent of doctorate degrees, and 60 percent of college students are female. As well, the majority of faculty positions are now held by women.xi xii

Various forms of affirmative action designed to include minorities and women—while laudable decades ago—have increasingly functioned as forms of racial and sexual discrimination. Equity of outcome, unlike equality of opportunity, cannot logically ever be truly inclusive. In fact, affirmative action hurts its recipients more than helps and advances mostly those from affluent families, since most minorities are stuck in public schools that fail to impart academic proficiency. As Thomas Sowell, PhD, who grew up largely in Harlem and became one of the country’s top intellectuals at Stanford University, put it: “We don’t need an intellectual special Olympics for black people”—or for anyone else.

The constant drumbeat in media and education that masculinity is intrinsically “toxic” has wreaked immense psychological damage. Schools such as Rice, in contrast, have demonstrated for centuries how to channel male energies properly. It’s not rocket science, which some techno-Zirconians are exploiting.

In 1998, I graduated in the top ten from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism with a book contract and after writing several articles for the New York Times. Out of kindness, a Times editor told me not to apply for a full-time position since we “don’t hire straight white males.” (They do hire some—from elite families or who have risen over decades to prominence elsewhere.) This bias is now deeply pervasive in hiring and promotion throughout media, academia, government and the corporate world.

Not surprisingly, many men feel deeply alienated and, in response, are welcoming the alien invasion from Planet Zircon. Currently, there are seven million prime-age men (25-54) who are simply missing from the workforce. This is 11 percent of this working pool, “mirroring the tail end of the Great Depression.”xiii They are not in school, jail or job-hunting, despite 11 million open positions, instead increasingly embracing emotional fentanyl.

Ironically, the closer AI gets to imitating us, the more alien it becomes, evolving logarithmically in an inscrutably different direction. AI excels at recognizing and responding to patterns, which potent algorithms then enhance and reinforce. Companionship is not about empathy, which doesn’t transmit through silicon, instead perpetrating sophisticated psycho-sexual manipulations. Choosing an AI-girlfriend is the digital equivalent of picking among Manchurian candidates after makeovers.

Replika also sells AI-powered boyfriends that never cheat etc. A woman’s dream. Will their kids be called a “botty”? That would be the transhumanist’s dream.

The answer to the question—“Should we develop non-human minds that might eventually outnumber, outsmart, obsolete and replace us?”—is emphatically, “No,” regarding human relationships and our intrinsic humanity.

In geology, zircon, a crystal formed more than four billion years ago, is considered a “time-lord” used to track deep time in Earth’s prehistory.xiv Do we want Zircon to determine our future? ◙


 i https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b2uEAgLeOzA
 ii https://futureoflife.org/open-letter/pause-giant-ai-experiments/
 iii https://thehill.com/opinion/technology/4218666-ai-girlfriends-are-ruining-an-entire-generation-of-men/
 iv Ibid.
 v https://dda.ndus.edu/ddreview/dune-or-done-covids-avoidable-catastrophe/
 vi Vittert, The Hill.
 vii https://dda.ndus.edu/ddreview/whangdepootenawah-technological-disruption-demographic-collapse-part-one/
 viii Daniel P. Moynihan, “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” Washington, D.C., Office of Policy Planning and Research, US Department of Labor, 1965.
 ix https://www.city-journal.org/article/review-of-the-two-parent-privilege-by-melissa-kearney
 x https://www.wsj.com/articles/school-is-a-hostile-environment-for-boys-cortisol-outcomes-stress-girls-education-marriage-f6768c71
 xi https://quillette.com/2023/09/11/the-shrinking-role-of-men-in-science-and-academia/
 xii https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=72
 xiii Eberstadt, Nicholas, Men Without Work, Templeton Press, 2022, p. 5-11. 
 xiv https://www.sciencetimes.com/articles/41621/20221229/zircon-how-this-mineral-became-a-time-lord.htm 

Patrick J. McCloskey is the Director of the Social and Ethical Implications of Cyber Sciences at the North Dakota University System and serves as the editor-in-chief of Dakota Digital Review. Previously, he served as the Director of Research and Publications at the University of Mary and editor-in-chief of 360 Review Magazine. He earned an MS in Journalism at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. McCloskey has written for many publications, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, National Post and City Journal. His books include Open Secrets of Success: The Gary Tharaldson Story; Frank’s Extra Mile: A Gentleman’s Story; and The Street Stops Here: A Year at a Catholic High School in Harlem, published by the University of California Press.