Something Like Fire

The debate over whether AI will be a net positive or net negative runs along a spectrum. “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future,” Danish physicist Niels Bohr supposedly once said.

And predicting the future of artificial intelligence is harder than predicting the future of literally anything else. There are no precedents. Artificial general intelligence doesn’t even exist yet. We can’t observe it or test it or pop the hood and look at its innards. Many compare it with the invention of nuclear weapons, but nuclear weapons can’t think for themselves. It’s like the Industrial Revolution in some ways, but it will unfold over years rather than centuries.

Humans are bad at predictions. Futurism is bloated with false utopias and doomsdays that never arrived. Even the smartest people can’t help but extrapolate linearly, projecting that trends will continue at their current pace and on their current trajectories, making the future just like the present, only more so. But history turns corners constantly. As Lenin once supposedly said, “There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen.”

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