The rise of Artificial General Intelligence; good or bad for humankind?
Imagine a machine that can think like a human, and that could match or surpass human intelligence in any domain. This is the vision of Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), a field of research that aims to create machines with human-like capabilities. AGI is not yet a reality, but many experts believe that it could happen in our lifetimes!
There are a variety of opinions on whether the rise of AGI would be good or bad for humankind. Some argue that it could bring tremendous benefits, while others believe it could lead to a dystopian future.
Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, is one of the proponents of AGI. He has said that AGI could help to solve many of humanity’s biggest problems, including disease, poverty, and climate change. Zuckerberg believes that AGI could enable us to make more accurate predictions about the future, leading to better decision-making.
On the other hand, there are those who believe that AGI could pose a significant threat to humanity. One such critic is the late Stephen Hawking, who warned that AGI could potentially outsmart and overpower humans, leading to a catastrophic outcome. Hawking argued that AGI would be able to improve itself at an exponential rate, leading to an intelligence explosion that humans would not be able to keep up with.
Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, shares Hawking’s concerns about AGI. Musk has warned that the development of AGI could lead to an “existential threat” to humanity, and has called for more regulation and oversight in the field. Musk has also suggested that AGI could be used as a weapon, with countries and organizations using it to gain an advantage over others.
Four years ago, in our first discussions around AI, I wrote an article under the title “European elections: deep conversation about AI is missing“. I was both excited and worried about the rise of Artificial Intelligence, which I believed could be the most amazing and the most dangerous technology ever created by humans. I was failing however to assess on how much AI will change the society, the humanity, our world, with so many different scenarios and hundred potential alternatives unfolding before our eyes.
That March, I was invited as a speaker to The Economist event to talk about the AI research that will be tomorrow’s technology. One of the questions I got asked was “If you had to select who will control AI, politicians or businesses, which would it be?” and I answered “politicians” without a second thought. My explanation was that AI is so important for humanity that it shouldn’t be controlled by profit organizations. Now that I am thinking about my answer again, it could also be that I don’t want the business world (thinking of myself as part of it) to mess with this “hot potato”! I admire in advance the politicians that will have the courage to build an AI framework for society. They should be bright and brave at the same time, since their decisions may have a permanent impact – positive or negative – on humanity as a whole.
The effect of AI on tomorrow’s jobs will be immense and no country is ready for it. For the first time in history, AI will displace high-skilled white-collar jobs. Until now, although innovation killed some jobs, it created new and better ones; I believe this will not be the case with AI though. This time jobs will be killed, period. Until now we are used to the fact that machines replace routine jobs with repetitive tasks. However, thanks to AI, computers are increasingly able to perform complicated tasks more cheaply and effectively than people.
Even if we do have enough jobs for everybody, people’s abilities are by default diverse. In a world that is polarized economically, many will not be able to find work prospects and in most of the cases their incomes will be squeezed. To put it simply, some people may not be capable of doing high-skilled jobs. Rising inequality will bring anger and income gaps will broaden, causing huge social disorder. However, optimists say that this will not be a long-term problem, since AI will offer a more productive overall society that will be richer, and its wealthier inhabitants will have access to more goods and services.
Let’s say now we solve the Universal Income problems and manage to apply it to society. Still, will the people be really happy? AI’s impact will feel like a tornado, and having an income solves only a part of the problem. How would a society react if 50% of its people are actually unemployed living by a Universal Income? What about the fulfillment you feel when you do something important (or at least think so)? These are all valid questions, challenges and serious considerations and needless to be said that the discussion has been growing ever-since.
Our questions have no easy or clear answers, and they may become even harder to answer with the emergence of Artificial General Intelligence in the near future.
But there is one thing that became clear to me at the same time and maybe this is the most valid thing to share with you:
That we tend to focus on the problems ahead and not remind ourselves of the evident improvements to our current life, at least the ones that we lead as modern western citizens, working a lifetime under high stress conditions to just manage to get by at 70 with a pension that could sustain us for the rest of our life. Many people realized this due through the lockdown-imposed work from home (look for the Great Resignation), and now demand not to lose 3 hours of their life every day commuting. Well, the commuting is gone (at least for many of us), but all the rest around our work routine persists against our nature and our right for the pursuit of happiness.
So the psychological downside of a working man’s expectations under the western model has permeated us and we are used to it. Maybe now with AI we have the chance for something really better for the first time for a long time after the Enlightenment?
And what if, many years from now, the world is run by machines (you may read this article why we should not be afraid of them: “The rise of the Machines…or not“) and we, along with the rest of the mammals, become modern foragers again (where the food will be produced by machines instead of nature) – will this be a real problem?
Sure, I hear you, whenever we have tried as societies models that were not based on the acquisition of wealth and/or material goods, we have failed. Why? Because the lucky few who had the skills to produce more wealth also wanted to reap it. And this is hardwired into our brains, to feel that we are rewarded according to what we produce and if it doesn’t happen to feel wrong. By the way, as an easy rule of thumb for whether something is in our nature to do it or not, is to see it reproduced in the animal kingdom: Capuchin monkey fairness experiment – YouTube
What can be the opportunity with AI is that at some point it will generate more wealth than the most gifted human amongst us. So, the ability to produce wealth will become an obsolete differentiating factor, just as our ability to stand for a long time on one leg in our childhood.
Will we find other areas of competition and/or excellence? I believe yes, because it is hardcoded into our Darwinian nature in our never ending effort to prove ourselves worthy of attracting other interesting people to combine our genes into offspring.
Will we manage to highlight these diversification goals that will do good to Humankind and the Cosmos overall? Remains to be seen.
Yes, there are many considerations, still many steps to be taken in the process and many mistakes to be made, while the challenges and the expectations are rising exponentially, as the heated discussions around AI do.
But for the time being, let’s do this good thing to ourselves; stay alert, but at the same time, simmer down and take it one step at a time. ChatGPT and the other AI pioneering innovations are already making our life better. Feel the change as it happens and do our best to bring the very best to us!