A Brave New World

Pro­fes­sor Toby Walsh, lead­ing ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence re­searcher and Sci­en­tia Pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of New South Wales and Data61, on why AI could sig­nal the end of the world as we know it.

Virgin Australia Voyeur - - EXEC STYLE -

Do you think peo­ple are pos­i­tive, or fear­ful, about AI’s fu­ture?

Un­for­tu­nately, many peo­ple are in­creas­ingly neg­a­tive. There are some valid rea­sons [such as] jobs be­ing dis­placed. But we shouldn’t for­get that we live bet­ter lives to­day be­cause of ad­vances brought by tech­nol­ogy. Life ex­pectancy in a coun­try like Aus­tralia has dou­bled since the In­dus­trial Revo­lu­tion. If we want our chil­dren and grand­chil­dren to live bet­ter lives again, we need to em­brace tech­nolo­gies like AI, but in ways that im­prove, not hurt, our lives.

Why is AI im­por­tant for hu­man­ity’s fu­ture? The world faces a bon­fire of prob­lems. Cli­mate change, in­creas­ing inequal­ity, the global refugee prob­lem and threat of global pan­demics. As well as the on­go­ing and per­haps never-end­ing global fi­nan­cial cri­sis. But tech­nolo­gies like AI can help to gen­er­ate wealth, use the Earth’s re­sources bet­ter and make bet­ter de­ci­sions. In fact, we don’t have any other cards to play but to dou­ble down on tech­nol­ogy.

Why do you be­lieve the fu­ture of AI could mean the end of equal­ity? What would a world like this look like?

Un­for­tu­nately, we see inequal­ity in­creas­ingly in the world to­day. The world’s eight rich­est peo­ple have the same wealth as the poor­est 50 per cent. Tech­nol­ogy is only am­pli­fy­ing these dif­fer­ences. Most of those eight got their wealth from in­for­ma­tion tech­nolo­gies. If we do noth­ing, AI will only ac­cel­er­ate this trend. The ben­e­fits will end up in the hands of the own­ers of the ro­bots. And there would be an un­der­class that is un­em­ployed and un­em­ploy­able. But we don’t need it to be like this. We could share the ben­e­fits, as we did in the first In­dus­trial Revo­lu­tion. We have a num­ber of levers like min­i­mal wages, neg­a­tive tax rates, per­haps even a uni­ver­sal ba­sic in­come, that would help achieve this.

Why is it so im­por­tant to talk about these ideas?

It’s vi­tal to talk about all these is­sues now. A com­mon mis­take is tech­no­log­i­cal de­ter­min­ism, to sup­pose the fu­ture is fixed. It’s not. It’s the prod­uct of the de­ci­sions we make to­day. As a so­ci­ety, we need to dis­cuss and de­cide pre­cisely what fu­ture we want AI to give us.

Pro­fes­sor Toby Walsh will ap­pear at the Fes­ti­val of Danger­ous Ideas on 4 No­vem­ber; Cock­a­too Is­land; Syd­ney; www.fes­ti­val­of­dan­ger­ousideas.com.

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