Insight article

Visions of the Future: Artificial Intelligence

6thDecember, 2017: What can you do in twenty-four hours? Navigate your car, eyes fatigue-filled and mind preoccupied, through the London traffic; send a dozen important emails; make your way, anticipation augmenting, down to the room where it happens – the room where you and your team are about to test, again, the intellectual limits of Life 3.0.

What can you do in twenty-four hours? More – so much more – than was ever thought possible. You gaze at the figures and formulae and results on your screen, seeing a glimpse of a future that isn’t quite here but may have just jumped one large step closer to reality – a world in which ignorance becomes intelligence in moments, and accelerates all the way to superintelligence before your best analysts can process the results.

When humans are born – tabula rasa, or close to – we have the capacity to learn. Life 2.0. Imagine a newborn baby, in its first twenty-four hours. What can it do in 24 hours? Learn to breathe, recognise its mother, adjust its eyes to an unfamiliar world.

Imagine a newborn baby, armed with the capacity to learn to play three board games in 24 hours.

Imagine one that could beat a world champion, a grandmaster – in 24 hours.

Imagine that this capacity for learning isn’t limited to game-playing.

Imagine what that artificial hand could do if it touched your business, your economy – your world.

So what now? What comes next?

6th December, 2027: What can you do in 24 hours? With a cognitive system whose capacity for creative synthesis is matched only by its capacity for destruction – when the unparalleled pattern recognition that can recognise and execute Alekhine’s gun in a fraction of a second could also recognise and execute the innocent in the same shooting snippet of time.

What can you do in 24 hours? When the seas of AI rise relentless and roughshod over every human intellectual domain, when it takes you a day to do what your computer colleague can do in hours or minutes, and the profit and efficiency imperative makes you and your education and experience redundant?

But what else could you do in 24 hours, when competence is replaced by creativity as the central focus of human economic affairs? When the policy frameworks, conceived and perfected through months of careful, expert-driven deliberation, ensure that the unprecedented explosion in human prosperity is distributed in a way that enhances, rather than jeopardises, our capacity for self-determination? When human economic endeavour could double every fortnight? When we win the wisdom race, and ensure that AI is an asset, not a threat?

So what now? Humanity’s at 11:58. What will we do in twenty-four hours?

Life 3.0 is coming. Artificial Intelligence researchers may not quite know when, but the prospect of AI has moved, imperceptibly but inexorably, from science fiction to science theory. The implications for every aspect of human life – the way we work, the way we interact, the way we define human value – are profound. With each development – such as Google’s AlphaZero acquiring superhuman-level proficiency in chess, and shogi, and Go, in under 24 hours – that paradigm shift moves a little closer.

As Yuval Harari writes in ‘Homo Deus’, and as Max Tegmark articulates in this TEDTalk, nobody can slam the brakes, and nobody knows where all the pieces are. Nobody knows quite how much unemployment we risk, how much prosperity is possible, how much danger might arise – but we know that these questions can’t be avoided.

We, like Nick Bostrom, believe that, if we get the answers to these questions right, the potential exists for outcomes that positively transform our lives beyond all recognition. But there is the potential for risk – risk that we can’t control if we don’t predict, assess, strategize, so that, when the detonation occurs, it is controlled.

The process has begun, with 23 principlesa kind of AI Accord – agreed and signed off by over 1,000 experts and industry leaders. This collaboration can serve as the blueprint, and the catalyst, for a vision of the future unlike anything we’ve ever seen.

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Jack Moran