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  • Ryan Bailis

The Second Coming: Artificial Super Intelligence

Updated: Oct 30

Before the end of the century, Artificial Super Intelligence (ASI) will possess intellect far greater than that of the brightest human minds. This technological agent, whether benevolent or evil, will dramatically alter civilization by offering humans an escape from the chains of productivity, profit, and fellow people. If technological change is allowed to alter the human condition this rapidly, at the velocity of doublings per biennial, our country must dramatically speed up the rate at which our social systems evolve. As computer science researchers develop ASI technology, society bears the responsibility of updating the global social contract, integrating virtue ethics into legislation, and bringing congruence to politics and economics to address the compounding bounty and spread.

Consider the antiquated statutes that define the modern legal system. The United States Constitution, written in 1787, emphasizes that amendments are necessary and proper as society evolves. However, amended only 27 times, the Constitution is ineffective at legislating or regulating a society trying to navigate the complex landscape of emerging technologies. To remain relevant as a nation, we must update our social contract, the series of rules governing people and the rules for enforcement, which allow society to function. There are some potential solutions to this dangerous policy vacuum. The Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) was a think-tank that provided congressional politicians with technological assessments and predictions via a series of annual white-papers. The OTA was defunded in 1995 to prioritize economic growth over sustainable technological development. It isn’t difficult to conclude that funding a modest technology research bureaucracy will prove necessary as ASI nears.

This blog post was inspired by James Barrat's book, Our Final Invention

Closely tied to our political system, the American economy is in need of radical innovation. Though capitalism has historically created more consumer surplus than other economic systems, past success does not imply future performance. An obsession with GDP and the rapid exchange of digital goods has caused our country to lose sight of our values and beliefs. When ASI is able to provide efficient, intelligent, and free labor, kindness will be necessary to protect human dignity. Instituting these virtues into the economy, in addition to humanity and dutifulness, will ensure unskilled laborers have the opportunity to live comfortably. Politicians must integrate these virtues into the implicit social contract if we wish to prevent morally bankrupt companies like Facebook from profiting on user privacy. Society should prioritize aggregate human happiness and quality of life instead of religiously benchmarking GDP and workplace productivity. If we fail to redefine success in the digital economy, hyper-capitalism and socio-economic divides will split our economy into ‘have’ and ‘have-nots’. Historically, societies with massive inequalities do not survive for long.

As James Barrat points out in Chapter 9 of Our Final Invention, the coming of AI is comparable to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Rather than Christ returning in the flesh, we will witness something robotic, digital, and beyond biblical proportions. In order to permit the creation of ASI, we must commit to equality and inclusion, human intelligence augmentation instead of replacement, and happiness as a metric of value. We must structurally integrate ethics and shared virtues into the social contract. If we fail to adopt these radical and systematic changes across the many facets of society, we run the risk of being controlled, or even killed, by a series of complex algorithms one-thousand times smarter than any human.


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