Philosophers, historians, social scientists, and all forms of academicians encourage us not to fear the unknown. Of course, it’s easier said than done. Throughout history, fear is the favorite manipulation tool of people hungry for power and greed. So my first thought, when I read about the coming thinking machines, is, who wants us to be afraid, and why?
This generation has had its challenges with fear.
Some real. Some not so much. I won’t jump to the judgments – left versus right – but you know the list; ISIS/Al Qaeda attacks, Russian/Chinese cyber disruptions of elections and power grids, global warming, pandemics, urban crime, and all the political investments in “not letting a good crisis go to waste.” And, of course, we have the media to thank for incessantly broadcasting all of this fear into our living rooms and social media for the never-ending hyper stream into our purses and pockets.
And now, here comes AI.
Add it to our list of something to fear as if we needed more. But AI is different, they say. Great minds of our time warn us that this could end mankind. “No, seriously, this time, we mean it,” they say in high-pitched hyperbole.
The facts are scary. They warn of machines that can process the world’s knowledge faster than humans. Then teach themselves to process that knowledge into discoveries in science, math, computing power, and so much more. Machines that could teach themselves how to manage mankind. And ultimately decide mankind is no longer needed or wanted. Then all human support systems, banking, internet connectivity, power, heat/air, food production, travel, and everything we depend on are turned off. The end.
I remember in March 2020, as I frantically packed up my London flat to catch one of the last flights from London back to New York City, this thought came to mind, to be repeated often during the Covid emergency; There are some things worse than death. I was careful not to say it too loudly and not in rooms that would immediately thrust me into the right versus left debate accusing me of being one of those people.
Should we be mindful of the downside of AI?
Of course. We should ask questions. Push back. Educate ourselves and others. But fear? Maybe not. It only distorts our ability to make good decisions and negatively impacts how AI eventually lands on mankind. Yep, we have work to do.
AI came up during a walk and talk in Central Park this morning with a young female founder. She’s in the music business. She asked, “Should I fight it or jump fully in?” Before I answered, we talked about Napster’s disruption of the music industry and the Apple Computer story of 1000 songs in our pocket. I then asked whether fighting AI or embracing it would best impact the result for herself and her clients. She thought momentarily, then said wisely, “I guess I need to jump fully in.” I nodded, “Yep.”
The only thing we have to fear is fear itself
President Roosevelt’s challenge at the beginning of WW2 comes to mind, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” I’m not saying that AI doesn’t have its risks. But fearing it doesn’t help. Best to jump in and help guide it to its promise of a better world. Our generation’s promise to ourselves and . . . “Wait, what am I saying?” My rational, fear-ridden brain yells as I finish typing this little blog. “We’ve screwed everything else up. Why should this be any different?” On second thought, maybe a little fear might help after all. Just a little. Back to work.