I’m a worrier.
I have generalized anxiety and so I constantly imagine worst case scenarios, regardless of how implausible.
My readers here know that I’m a bit of a party-pooper and they sometimes push back on my pessimism. I’m happy they do that.
I believe there is no way to contain the development of AI at this point. The worldwide regulatory framework simply doesn’t exist and its development is eons behind the technology. Moreover, states are incentivized to cheat to develop a competitive edge.
Runaway AI development by individuals, companies and states will come with both the good and bad. The good is lifesaving technology and the proliferation of highly productive tools. Unfortunately, the bad is truly terrifying.
I get that I could be wrong about a lot of things. I hope I’m wrong. But I believe good risk management requires one to consider the high impact risks, regardless of the probability.
There’s always a range of probabilities for a variety of outcomes, and they’re not all doom and gloom. One of those possible outcomes is that AI is the catalyst for another renaissance period. Humanity could reap the rewards in two broad ways:
1. The Empowered Individual
Consider your smart phone. It represents the convergence of a vast array of technologies – video recorder, telephone, audio recorder, Walkman, VCR, camera, TV – and computing power that previously cost thousands of dollars. Just 15 years after the first smart phone was released, there are now people who run entire businesses on their hand-held device. The smart phone democratized access to technologies, making it easy for individuals to become entrepreneurs. The same can be said for the Internet.
Like the smart phone, generative AI bestows resources on the individual that were previously unavailable:
- Poor people in developing nations can access medical expertise.
- Grandmothers can learn to code.
- Everyone has a private tutor.
- Small businesses and solopreneurs have full marketing studios at their fingertips.
One-person shows can now compete with the big boys, with much lower overhead. It’s possible small shops run circles around behemoths handcuffed to legacy processes, rules and infrastructure.
And this is just the beginning – thousands of new AI tools are being developed each week.
Bottom line: AI has the potential to put YOU at the helm by giving the individual a rapidly growing arsenal of tools plus the productivity benefits of a personal assistant at a low cost. This enables the individual to compete with much better endowed organizations.
2. To Be Human Again
Empowering individuals with new resources is just the beginning. Over time, as AI becomes more capable of managing complex projects (see AutoGPT), it will take on a larger role in our lives.
Possibly, AI-enabled digital agents, robots and things could take over most mundane work. Like previous industrial revolutions, jobs will be under threat for a period of time. This will have terrible short-term impacts to human civilization. However, from the ashes of this destruction a new period of enlightenment for humanity could arise.
Nobody was put on this planet to balance books or write TPS reports. If AI were to relieve us of our mundanity, humans could once again become humans.
It’s possible that the deep integration of AI into the general economy could free us to explore, think, create, interact, imagine.
To achieve this, society might break into two classes: the AI class and the creator class.
The AI Class: The AI class includes individuals who either own, build or operate AI tools.
The Creator Class: The creator class is responsible for human interaction and entertainment.
Both classes play important roles, one keeps us fed while the other keeps us human. The AI class would likely be smaller and wealthier, but the creator class would be free, fed and happy.
Eventually, these classes would merge as the AI becomes increasingly self-sustaining. Assuming the AI was programmed right, it would exist to serve humans. Our time would be completely free to build a new society based on art, pleasure and experiences.
Bottom Line: Assuming we get the programming right, humans could live in a world free from drudgery. Why do most of us work? To buy food, clothes, shelter. Imagine if that was all provided to you. You’d probably spend your time on creative endeavors, perhaps cooking, skateboarding or playing jazz in the park.
Back to Reality
I really want this AI-powered utopia to become reality, but I can’t deny my skepticism. Even if we can achieve some kind of utopia for a period of time, the technology will likely be perverted by those seeking power and wealth.
Ironically, the concept of AI utopia itself seems moderately dystopian.
While a world in which all our needs are provided for sounds comforting, it also is awfully like communism. The equal distribution of production works on paper but not in reality.
AI providing for all begins with the best intentions, but ultimately there’s always a group that believes it is more equal than others.