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Progress. The term has an undeniably positive connotation, bringing to the mind words such as innovation, discovery, or improvement. We think of steps being taken towards equality and groundbreaking medical discoveries. Oxford Dictionary defines it as “development towards an improved or more advanced condition”. In other words, we can think of progress as anything that improves our quality of life. This can be in the form of social change or technological or medical advances. Progress, in general, is not a trap, but it does need to be supervised.
According to Jared Diamond, the introduction of agriculture was “The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race”. He says that humans were better off as hunter-gatherers than as farmers. One of his reasons for saying this is that the hunter-gatherers had healthier, more varied diets than farmers did. However, it is important to know that the life expectancy for a hunter-gatherer was only 30 years old, and it took the introduction of agriculture to raise that to around 70 worldwide. If agriculture was so unhealthy and so inconvenient, it would not have spread the way it did. Additionally, Diamond says that agriculture encouraged people to settle down in close proximity to each other, causing diseases to spread easily. What Diamond does not acknowledge is how the spread of disease leads to great medical progress that can save lives in the future. Progress does not trap us; it merely inspires more progress. This is also shown in how agriculture allowed for time for more creative interests such as art to develop. To add on, giving up the nomadic lifestyle makes it much easier for knowledge and ideas to spread. The world would not be as connected as it is now if it were not for the introduction of agriculture.
However, going back to the definition of progress as stated earlier, we have to ask ourselves what we are aiming for, what the endpoint is. We see this in the development of AI (artificial intelligence). Is our goal really to let AI take over so that we can be, as it has been so wonderfully stated, fat, dumb, and happy? Some experts such as Nick Bostrom and Joanna Bryson say that a fear of how far AI can go is reasonable and necessary. Others, on the other hand, say that AI is nothing to be afraid of. Computer science professor Sebastian Thrun has said, “AI will free us humans from highly repetitive mindless repetitive office work, and give us much more time to be truly creative. ” Could it be that artificial intelligence could have a similar effect on our creativity as agriculture had? AI, similarly, may free up more of our time. AI, similarly, may make our lives easier and possibly longer. AI, similarly, may facilitate the connection between different countries and cultures. AI, similarly, may not trap us in its progress, but rather allow us to further ourselves through additional progress. However, it could also do the opposite. Worries about AI are essential. Progress in this form is exciting and new, but it is also frightening and potentially incredibly dangerous. Progress like this must be monitored.
All in all, progress can be and is, for the most part, a beautiful thing. Progress can save lives and make them easier. However, it does have the potential to do the exact opposite. We need to think about what we do before we do it, as our actions can have fatal consequences. We need to think about future generations in addition to current ones. We need to be careful with our advances, particularly technological, and ensure that what we are doing will really lead us “towards an improved or more advanced condition”. Progress is not a trap, but it can be deadly if we do not monitor it.
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