Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Threat of AI

Kai-Fu Lee has an important op-ed in the NYTimes, "The Real Threat of Artificial Intelligence". He begins by pointing out that all too many discussions of the problems posed by AI turn on the so-called "singularity", when AI will surpass human intelligence. He points out, quite rightly IMO, that however interesting such questions are "they are not pressing". Our best AI tools have little or no understanding of anything, but they nonetheless can do useful tasks and are improving rapidly. These tools will take existing human jobs without replacing them with new jobs.
This transformation will result in enormous profits for the companies that develop A.I., as well as for the companies that adopt it. Imagine how much money a company like Uber would make if it used only robot drivers. Imagine the profits if Apple could manufacture its products without human labor. Imagine the gains to a loan company that could issue 30 million loans a year with virtually no human involvement. (As it happens, my venture capital firm has invested in just such a loan company.)

We are thus facing two developments that do not sit easily together: enormous wealth concentrated in relatively few hands and enormous numbers of people out of work. What is to be done?
The rest of the op-ed addresses these questions and is well-worth reading.

He's call for high tax rates with the government subsidizing "most people's lives and work". The USA and China may well be able to do this. Most countries will not.
So if most countries will not be able to tax ultra-profitable A.I. companies to subsidize their workers, what options will they have? I foresee only one: Unless they wish to plunge their people into poverty, they will be forced to negotiate with whichever country supplies most of their A.I. software — China or the United States — to essentially become that country’s economic dependent, taking in welfare subsidies in exchange for letting the “parent” nation’s A.I. companies continue to profit from the dependent country’s users. Such economic arrangements would reshape today’s geopolitical alliances.

Addendum, 6.26.17: Mark Liberman has posted about this over at Language Log, and has some interesting links to remarks by Norbert Wiener.

1 comment:

  1. I'm surprised someone has to point this out. It is as obvious as the emperor's clothes. And, glad this is being pointed out.