Artificial Intelligence is the next technological frontier, and it has the potential to make or break the world order. The AI revolution could pull the “bottom billion” out of poverty and transform dysfunctional institutions, or it could entrench injustice and increase inequality. The outcome will depend on how we manage the coming changes.
Unfortunately, when it comes to managing technological revolutions, humanity has a rather poor track record. Consider the Internet, which has had an enormous impact on societies worldwide, changing how we communicate, work, and occupy ourselves. And it has disrupted some economic sectors, forced changes to long-established business models, and created a few entirely new industries.
The Internet did not keep its promises
But the Internet has not brought the kind of comprehensive transformation that many anticipated. It certainly didn’t resolve the big problems, such as eradicating poverty or enabling us to reach Mars. As PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel once noted: “We wanted flying cars; instead, we got 140 characters.” In fact, in some ways, the Internet has exacerbated our problems. While it has created opportunities for ordinary people, it has created even more opportunities for the wealthiest and most powerful. A recent study by researchers at the LSE reveals that the Internet has increased inequality, with educated, high-income people deriving the greatest benefits online and multinational corporations able to grow massively – while evading accountability.
AI has immense potential
Perhaps, though, the AI revolution can deliver the change we need. Already, AI – which focuses on advancing the cognitive functions of machines so that they can “learn” on their own – is reshaping our lives. It has delivered self-driving (though still not flying) cars, as well as virtual personal assistants and even autonomous weapons. But this barely scratches the surface of AI’s potential, which is likely to produce societal, economic, and political transformations that we cannot yet fully comprehend.
Predicting the Future is futile
AI will not become a new industry; it will penetrate and permanently alter every industry in existence. AI will not change human life; it will change the boundaries and meaning of being human. How and when this transformation will happen – and how to manage its far-reaching effects – are questions that keep scholars and policymakers up at night. Expectations for the AI era range from visions of paradise, in which all of humanity’s problems have been solved, to fears of dystopia, in which our creation becomes an existential threat.