How Will AI Change the World?: A Captivating Animation Explores the Promise & Perils of Artificial Intelligence

Many of us can remem­ber a time when arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence was wide­ly dis­missed as a sci­ence-fic­tion­al pipe dream unwor­thy of seri­ous research and invest­ment. That time, safe to say, has gone. “With­in a decade,” writes blog­ger Samuel Ham­mond, the devel­op­ment of arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence could bring about a world in which “ordi­nary peo­ple will have more capa­bil­i­ties than a CIA agent does today. You’ll be able to lis­ten in on a con­ver­sa­tion in an apart­ment across the street using the sound vibra­tions off a chip bag” (as pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture.) “You’ll be able to replace your face and voice with those of some­one else in real time, allow­ing any­one to social­ly engi­neer their way into any­thing.”

And that’s the benign part. “Death-by-kamikaze drone will sur­pass mass shoot­ings as the best way to enact a lurid revenge. The courts, mean­while, will be flood­ed with law­suits because who needs to pay attor­ney fees when your phone can file an air­tight motion for you?” All this “will be enough to make the sta­blest genius feel schiz­o­phrenic.” But “it doesn’t have to be this way. We can fight AI fire with AI fire and adapt our prac­tices along the way.” You can hear a con­sid­ered take on how we might man­age that in the ani­mat­ed TED-Ed video above, adapt­ed from an inter­view with com­put­er sci­en­tist Stu­art Rus­sell, author of the pop­u­lar text­book Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence: A Mod­ern Approach as well as Human Com­pat­i­ble: Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence and the Prob­lem of Con­trol.

“The prob­lem with the way we build AI sys­tems now is we give them a fixed objec­tive,” Rus­sell says. “The algo­rithms require us to spec­i­fy every­thing in the objec­tive.” Thus an AI charged with de-acid­i­fy­ing the oceans could quite plau­si­bly come to the solu­tion of set­ting off “a cat­alyt­ic reac­tion that does that extreme­ly effi­cient­ly, but con­sumes a quar­ter of the oxy­gen in the atmos­phere, which would appar­ent­ly cause us to die fair­ly slow­ly and unpleas­ant­ly over the course of sev­er­al hours.” The key to this prob­lem, Rus­sell argues, is to pro­gram in a cer­tain lack of con­fi­dence: “It’s when you build machines that believe with cer­tain­ty that they have the objec­tive, that’s when you get sort of psy­cho­path­ic behav­ior, and I think we see the same thing in humans.”

A less exis­ten­tial but more com­mon wor­ry has to do with unem­ploy­ment. Full AI automa­tion of the ware­house tasks still per­formed by humans, for exam­ple, “would, at a stroke, elim­i­nate three or four mil­lion jobs.” Rus­sell here turns to E. M. Forster, who in the 1909 sto­ry “The Machine Stops” envi­sions a future in which “every­one is entire­ly machine-depen­dent,” with lives not unlike the e‑mail- and Zoom meet­ing-filled ones we lead today. The nar­ra­tive plays out as a warn­ing that “if you hand over the man­age­ment of your civ­i­liza­tion to machines, you then lose the incen­tive to under­stand it your­self or to teach the next gen­er­a­tion how to under­stand it.” The mind, as the say­ing goes, is a won­der­ful ser­vant but a ter­ri­ble mas­ter. The same is true of machines — and even truer, we may well find, of mechan­i­cal minds.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Dis­cov­er DALL‑E, the Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence Artist That Lets You Cre­ate Sur­re­al Art­work

Experts Pre­dict When Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence Will Take Our Jobs: From Writ­ing Essays, Books & Songs, to Per­form­ing Surgery and Dri­ving Trucks

Sci-Fi Writer Arthur C. Clarke Pre­dicts the Future in 1964: Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence, Instan­ta­neous Glob­al Com­mu­ni­ca­tion, Remote Work, Sin­gu­lar­i­ty & More

Stephen Fry Voic­es a New Dystopi­an Short Film About Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence & Sim­u­la­tion The­o­ry: Watch Escape

Stephen Hawk­ing Won­ders Whether Cap­i­tal­ism or Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence Will Doom the Human Race

Hunter S. Thomp­son Chill­ing­ly Pre­dicts the Future, Telling Studs Terkel About the Com­ing Revenge of the Eco­nom­i­cal­ly & Tech­no­log­i­cal­ly “Obso­lete” (1967)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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