When humans are ruled by artificial intelligence

January 09, 2019 18:44
Physicist Max Tegmark predicts that humans will get used to artificial intelligence making the decisions for them that they will eventually allow them to rule society. Photo: Reuters

In his book Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, physicist Max Tegmark makes a lot of predictions about the new ethical paradigms likely to be adopted in the future.

Among his projections is that people may get so used to and actually enjoy living in a totalitarian society.

Many people hate dictatorship because they believe the system violates individual freedom.

They also believe totalitarianism often leads to serious misjudgments and human errors by the state machinery, corruption, or even war and famine.

However, according to Tegmark, the global trend of mass surveillance mounted by the state through artificial intelligence (AI) on its people is irreversible, no matter whether it is in a democratic or authoritarian society.

As this will be the trend, it is just impossible for global social media operators like Facebook and Weixin, as well as tech giants like Microsoft and Huawei, not to cooperate with the state in the name of upholding “national security”.

And over time, these private companies are likely to gradually become part of the governing establishment.

The younger generation has assumed that round-the-clock state surveillance is a fact of life and that it is not possible for both their online and offline behavior to escape surveillance.

As a result, fewer and fewer people will even bother to talk about the issue of “privacy”.

Tegmark also says the prevalence of Big Data and machine learning may give rise to a whole new political entity in human society known as the “AI regime”, which is able to carry out social and urban planning based on algorithms with ease and pinpoint accuracy.

The rise of the AI regime would prevent misjudgments in the course of policymaking in the future, thereby substantially reducing the possibility of man-made disasters such as the Great Leap Forward movement orchestrated by Mao Zedong.

And since it is easy for the AI regime to avoid human evils, the equal and effective distribution of economic resources in society will become possible.

For example, an AI regime can easily tell which areas need more entertainment and leisure amenities, or more libraries and coffee shops, and can deliver them instantly with the help of AI technologies.

Such a governing model would prove much more efficient than the existing system of representative politics, which relies heavily on popularly elected “intermediaries” in order to function properly.

Once human beings get used to such a social model, the little things in daily life that make them worried become very limited, because everything is well taken care of by the AI state.

Tegmark also predicts that the AI state will continue to evolve and eventually develop into an ultimate form of governing entity known as the "Super AI".

Under the rule of the Super AI, one cannot rule out the possibility, in the most extreme case, that human beings may one day be deemed a net drain on resources.

As a result, human civilization may be brought to an end by self-learning AI machines, and in turn, they will "inherit" our civilization.

Tegmark has come under fire from quite a number of his contemporary critics for his prophecies about the future of society, but he remains positive about the development of AI.

In his opinion, at least in the short run, only by fully utilizing AI can human beings truly achieve a society that is completely free from poverty, diseases and injustice.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 4

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Associate professor and director of Global Studies Programme, Faculty of Social Science, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Lead Writer (Global) at the Hong Kong Economic Journal