By Johan Steyn, December 2022
Published by Brainstorm Magazine: https://brainstorm.itweb.co.za/content/4r1lyMR9zKR7pmda
"The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race.” One can imagine hearing the clicking sounds as the author, hidden away in a simple cabin in the mountains, labours on a typewriter, producing the document that would make him notoriously famous.
Having demonstrated an advanced aptitude for mathematics and an IQ of 167, Theodore John Kaczynski enrolled at Harvard University at the age of 16. Nine years later, he earned his doctorate and became the youngest professor ever hired by the University of California, Berkeley.
It was the author’s view that industrialised society and technological advancements are dehumanising people and destroying the natural world. He wrote: "Among the abnormal conditions present in modern industrial society are excessive density of population, isolation of man from nature, excessive rapidity of social change and the breakdown of natural small-scale communities such as the extended family.”
Kaczynski was lauded by fellow academics for his superior intellect. He published several successful mathematical treatises, but his awkward and reticent personality rendered him incapable of teaching. Two years after leaving his position to return home, he moved to his cabin in the remote wilderness of Montana.
Noticing that the countryside around him was being destroyed by urbanisation, he concluded that acts of aggression were needed to curtail the proponents of industrialisation and those who work on the advancement of modern technology.
Learning to build crude bombs in his remote cabin, Kaczynski began a reign of terror, primarily targeting universities. After bombs exploded on an airline flight and at several universities, the media dubbed him the Unabomber.
Targeting people he claimed were responsible for the development of advanced technology and the destruction of the environment, his bombs killed three people and injured over 20. Quickly rising to the top of the FBI’s most wanted list, his capture was the result of one of the longest and most expensive manhunts in US history (see the Netflix series Manhunt: The Unabomber for more on this).
Kaczynski, serving eight consecutive life sentences and now in his 80s, has been resurrected as somewhat of a folk hero. Many people consider him a prophet because he could see the devastating influence perpetrated by those in Silicon Valley.
No moral and clear-thinking person will condone the acts of violence perpetrated by this man. However, his exposition, known as The Unabomber Manifesto and first published by The Washington Post and New York Times in 1995 as 'Industrial Society and Its Future', rings true today more than ever before.
Not the ramblings of a madman, but prophetic in a strange way, I encourage others to study the document. Kaczynski wrote about the robotisation of humanity in an age when the powerful effects of artificial intelligence were unimaginable to most people.
We are called on to rebel – not through acts of violence – but acts of informed defiance. We all should care deeply about the potentially devastating effect of modern technology on our humanity and the future of our children. It should be regulated, kept in check, and limited.
The future imagined by Kaczynski may become a reality if we live in blind obedience and acceptance to the onslaught of biases, techno-misinformation and the ravishing of our privacy.
I’m left to wonder whether we’re allowing modern technology to dehumanise us, decarbonise us, to change our vital sapienness, and if the very core of what it means to be human – a free spirit, free will and consciousness – will be morphed into slavelike obedience to a horde of silicon masters colonising our world.
Rated as one of the top 50 global voices on AI by Swiss Cognitive, Prof. Johan Steyn is a member of the faculty of Woxsen University, a research fellow with Stellenbosch University and the founder of AIforBusiness.net.