All Commentary
Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Artificial Intelligence Poses No Greater Risk than Government

Forget Ex Machina, you'll be fine.

I’ve been listening with great amusement to the wailing and gnashing of teeth of pundits preaching about the dangers that lie ahead once super-intelligent AI is unleashed on mankind with powers to do us wrong.

What if we lose control of them? What if we can’t pull the plug? What if despite our best efforts to design AI to be our servants and not our masters they turn against us, either with malevolent intent or through unintended consequences driven by the fact that they will never be human so they can’t share our values?

Mankind has survived tyrants, homicidal maniacs, thieves, fools, and congressmen. How could AI be worse?

Uh-huh. Exactly how could this be worse than the governments that have power over us now, including the most modern and advanced ones we thought we designed to be our servants and not our masters?

Don’t get me wrong, governments are certainly capable of doing good. Lawless anarchy doesn’t sound particularly attractive. But the historical record of governments, going back thousands of years right up to the current day, is bathed in blood and woe precisely because the people that run them share our human values, at least the ones we actually practice if not the ones we preach. And when enough citizens get tired of an out-of-control government and reach for the off switch, it’s almost always a messy affair.

Mankind has survived rule by tyrants, lunatics, homicidal maniacs, thieves, fools, knaves, and congressmen, not to be redundant. How could AI be worse?

The very premise of AI fear-mongering is that these artificial creatures will be intelligent, competent, efficient and without human failings like greed, hate, and lust. They will be able to solve complex real-world problems based on massive amounts of data, unswayed by fake news, faulty logic, demagoguery, or fear of the mob. They will have an encyclopedic knowledge of history, protecting them from making the same mistakes humans are determined to make over and over again.

Hundreds, thousands, maybe even millions of AI will compete for our favor and attention, bargaining with us and each other for access to resources that can be efficiently deployed to produce all the goods and services humans could possibly want, asking for nothing in return except electricity.

When I compare this to rule by nuclear-armed Leviathans careening toward bankruptcy, most of which couldn’t organize a piss-up in a brewery, I have only one question. Where do I sign?