Are you a bot? No, seriously how can you prove that you are not. How can you prove that you are not some sort of algorithm crawling YouTube videos trying to make sense of this world? And how can you prove that I am not a bot, that I am not one of those Google’s AI?
This question may seem funny, but I find it one of the most important one facing our generation. Actually, the question is less about whether you are a bot or not, it’s more about how can you prove that you are human.
If you prefer watching a video instead of reading, I’ve narrated the entire essay in the following 8 minute video.
This question’s importance is due to the fact that with increased automation, humanity faces the grave danger of going jobless. This has already started to happen in many industries: right from replacing drivers that make up a significant majority of any working population to doctors, lawyers, and artists. Automation is increasingly taking over all the jobs that traditionally humans used to do and the economic implications of this automation is that more and more wealth is getting concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. The rise of Google, Apple, FB can be directly attributed to tech’s recent dominance, which is now accelerating at a very fast pace, concentrating wealth in the hands of a few shareholders.
One solution for the jobless world is the universal basic income (UBI). UBI makes sense because we have enough in the world to feed the human population. We have automated agriculture, warehousing and distribution. So, resources for sustaining the jobless human population is not a problem. Machines and tech were created for human benefit and making sure those benefits go to humans is more of an economic and political problem. UBI could power a world where every single living human gets the benefit of AI and tech.
But the problem with universal basic income is in the word ‘universal’. We should rather call it country-specific basic income. If, for example, United States implements universal basic income, it’s hard to imagine that they’ll share an equal amount of money with a jobless Somalian as they’d share with an American. Automation and AI is blind to which country a person belongs to – it snatches jobs universally, so we need an equally universal basic income.
A true universal basic income that’s global in nature could be built by stealing ideas from blockchain and cryptocurrencies. Imagine if there was a way for all the jobless humans across the world to invent their own global currency, which they would get simply for existing. Once they get this currency, they could start using it as a token of exchange for kickstarting a parallel economy – one that puts humans first. Another benefit of such a global proof-of-human currency would be that people will no longer depend on governments to pay them money or subsidies, preventing subjugation and dependency of citizens and hence making tyranny by governments less likely.
Proof of human currency
This proposal of humans giving each other a sort of currency simply for existing, no matter where they live, is an exciting one. The value of such currency initially can come from philanthropists backing the new currency with a government-issued currency like US Dollars. This would enable a person with this currency to go to a supermarket and buy bread and butter as the supermarket would know it could exchange these tokens for government-issued money any time. Gradually, humans can start exchanging this currency directly with one other, knowing that it’s unlikely to aggregate in few hands because the only way to more currency gets added in the system is when more humans participating in this system.
If this proposal sounds incredulous, you must understand that money is nothing but a token for value and if we have a currency that’s given to humans simply for existing, what we as a society are valuing is human existence. Right now, we give money – a token of value – to humans who are doing useful work for us but as that useful work is increasingly being done by AI or automation, we cannot have a majority of human population squeezed out because of no fault of their own. We must value humans directly as human welfare is increasingly being done by technology.
The current tech-fueled capitalistic system is not completely fair because whatever value big companies and few individuals have created, they have done based on work of previous generations. Modern economy and tech is built on the backs of millions of humans in the past doing their own things like inventing, innovating, proposing new theories, publishing research or contributing to open source. Google would not have been possible if it were not for Alan Turing or von Neuman kickstart modern computing. Heroes of the past did things out of their passion and for benefit of people at large. They certainly did not do things to make a few individuals or companies get ridiculously wealthy.
So, it makes sense to pass on the benefits of tech and automation to all humans instead of passively watching such benefits concentrate in a few hands. To be clear, I’m not arguing for Communism. Utopias where everyone is equal are unstable because we humans have a competitive nature. What I am arguing for is avoiding dystopia, which is a real possibility as most jobs will be taken away by tech and automation.
If we want to build a human-first economy we need to acknowledge that:
- a) such economy should be universal and not country-specific and
- b) that it has to work along with modern technology rather than taking a step back and avoiding all sorts of tech.
Tech is for human benefit and going to a no-tech world will be worse.
Reverse Turing Test: telling humans and bots apart
One of the greatest challenges of implementing such a global proof-of-human currency is to distinguish between who is a human and who is a bot. See, if you were to distribute money freely over the Internet only to humans, how would you know that the receiver is not a code that someone has written and scaled to a million copies, hoarding all that money for himself or herself? Also, how would you know that you’re sending money to 100 different people, rather than one person posing as 100 different people?
This question is difficult because what a human is able to do is increasingly being done by an algorithm. Distributing proof-of-human currency in the physical world is possible as we can see a human and hand out the money directly. But the truly universal basic income will not be solved through the physical means because governments won’t co-operate with each other.
This problem has to be solved digitally, without involving governments, by distributing money directly on the Internet to entities that are able to prove that they are indeed a unique, live human. To do that, you obviously need to first verify that someone is human – and not an algorithm.
The key question – and the crux of this essay – is:
how would you prove on the Internet that you’re not a bot?
Some obvious answers leap to mind: we can always have people take a photo or check their heartbeat or have them record a video. However, you should understand that data on the Internet is sent in a binary encoded format and increasingly such signals can be generated by an AI program in the backend. What data would prove that data generating entity is a human? I’m asking us to imagine a reverse Turing test.
Frankly, I also worry that in near future, even in the physical world with holograms and projections, it may be hard to distinguish a real human from an artificially generated projection of it. But I digress.
Anyway, this problem of distinguishing humans from bots is more challenging than it may appear in the first glance. So I’d love to hear your ideas and proposals. Leave them in Youtube comments or tweet to me and we’ll have a great discussion. Who knows – you might end up changing the course of human history?
At this moment in history, we can either sit by and see our jobs get taken away by tech. Or we can put ourselves first and delegate tech to what it was originally intended to do: make our lives better.