I’m sure that if you haven’t been on another planet you have lately been inundated with reports and opinions on Artificial Intelligence (AI), its opportunities, its transformational potential, its risks, and its threats. It is moving so fast into our public consciousness that it is almost impossible to keep up with the narrative and for me, most of it, particularly the technical aspects, is beyond my comprehension. But I have attempted to keep up as best I can with the various arguments about how we should deal with it–socially, legally, and humanely. And of all the coverage on these points for me, Henry Kissinger and his colleagues have provided the most effective analysis, beginning with his 2018 article, “How the Enlightenment Ends”, in which he makes the case that–philosophically, intellectually, in every way–human society is unprepared for the rise of AI. The bottom line is his most difficult yet important question about the world into which we are headed: What will become of human consciousness if its own explanatory power is surpassed by AI, and societies are no longer able to interpret the world they inhabit in terms that are meaningful to them?
The most compelling questions for me about the threats he describes are: Who decides? Who is responsible? These questions are about accountability, and for that discussion he suggests a high level presidential commission, which I would liken to the President’s Council on Bioethics under President George W. Bush, with leadership comprised of the best philosophers and other disciplines in the field of the humanities along with religious advisors and advisors in the sciences and relevant technologies to begin to formulate a national vision.
Long-time subscribers will know that I have written several times over the past 23 years about the grand themes that will dominate the 21st century. My own view has consistently been that, despite the specter of radical Islam, the rise of China, and the usual issues of war and peace, there was one issue that would trump them all. It is the looming cultural, philosophical, and religious conflict on the question of the meaning of human nature because of the growing capability for man to transform his very nature due to the advances in the biosciences and neurosciences. But now, after reading Kissinger and others, I’m about ready to add the advancement of AI technology as a close second on my list.
At the recent annual meeting of Berkshire-Hathaway, Chairman Warren Buffet was asked about his thoughts on AI and he said: “It can do all kinds of things, and when something can do all kinds of things, I get a little bit worried because I know we won’t be able to uninvent it”. We should be very, very worried.