A new cold war, a new arms race, two new antagonists. This time, however, the weapons that are chasing each other will not be used to blow up cities, but they will be more silent, they will be algorithms of artificial intelligence.
The explosion of artificial intelligence will take place in less than two decades. In the next 15 years, the development of AI will reach the elbow of the exponential curve of Ray Kurzweil’s “Law of accelerating return” and its growth will be out of our control.
Like a knife, artificial intelligence is a tool our civilization could benefit from, but like all tools, it can be used for good or for bad. The difference, as it has always been, is made by the man who uses it.
Today, 2019, we are living in a historical era that does not bode well. The two antagonists, United States and China, are beginning to tease each other on the trade front and, given the historical thoughtfulness and harmony of the two governments, the competition can easily shift from Huawei to custom duties, embargoes and military espionage.
An escalation of low blows that, at best, will divide the globe in two. Two separate internet, two separate international trade circuits, two separate scientific research communities, two Declarations of human rights.
On one side the Chinese block, which could include Russia and much of Asia, with the African continent as a material mine and waste dump, while on the other, the Americas, Europe and Australia. Japan could play the role of Switzerland and remain neutral.
If this is the best of scenarios, the worst is one in which the escalation does not stop at a break-up as separated at home, but leads to military conflict.
A conflict that, at least initially, will not involve gunpowder, because a much more interesting weapon is available to both. A weapon that does not detonate military buildings and does not directly kill people, but that collapses economic empires destroying the credibility of planetary brands, that alters political results, that empties the virtual coffers of cryptocurrencies, that mess up the automated supply logistics of primary or secondary goods.
Artificial intelligence algorithms will immensely enhance the hacking techniques that will be used to make scorched earth around the enemy.
As a consequence of this potential danger, our societies will strengthen the security systems that will become much more complex, closed and invasive, eating spaces to our freedom.
But this scenario could be replaced by the one put forward by Peter Diamandis in Abundance, a future in which exponential progress, of which artificial intelligence would be the leading technology, would be used to unload man from the burden of work while maintaining his standard of living, to balance the consumption of resources and make it sustainable or to create global political systems closely interconnected and collaborative.
The difference lies in how men will be able to use the tools at their disposal.
In recent months, more and more positions have been taken warning of the dangers of artificial intelligence. This only triggers the usual unfounded panic and the usual paranoia of public opinion towards the wrong danger.
How many times have I heard that the Internet has ruined the world because children no longer play in the street, because husbands chat with young women on the other side of the world or because our children are at the mercy of pedophiles.
Just as the internet has not ruined the world, artificial intelligence is not the danger for the future, the danger is man, as it has always been. The danger is once again how this imperfect creature that dominates the planet earth will know how to handle a new tool.
Emblematic of this idea is the representation of Daenerys Targaryen on his powerful dragon standing on the walls of King’s Landing deciding what to do.
We have 15 years to think about what to do. If we want to succumb to anger and selfishness by creating a tomorrow of conflict, scorched earth and protective walls, or if we want to listen to the advice of the wise Tyrion and get off the dragon renouncing prevarication over others, and enjoy the victory of a prosperous and free future.