Public perception of artificial intelligence technology, in 2017, seems to lie somewhere at the intersection of existential fear and cautious optimism. Yet there’s a growing movement of people who believe AI is crucial to the evolution of our species. These people aren’t outsiders or outliers — they’re actually directing research on the cutting edge at companies like Google.
Ray Kurzweil, Google’s guru of AI and futurism, spoke last week at the Council for Foreign Relations, in an intimate Q&A session. His views on the future of humanity might seem radical to a public that’s been cutting its teeth on doomsayer headlines featuring Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking warning about World War III.
He’s quick to point out that today, right now, is the best our species has ever had it. According to him, most people don’t know that the world we live in currently has less hunger and poverty than ever before. “Three billion people have smartphones, I thought it was two but I just found out it was three. In a few years that’ll be six billion.” he says.
The deadliest war in recorded human history, World War II, ended just 72 years ago. In the time since, humanity has engaged in what feels like countless skirmishes, police actions, and outright wars. And while the US remains engaged in the longest war in its history – with no end in sight – the human species is currently enjoying the most peaceful period in the history of our civilization.
The existential fear is that AI will somehow compromise this progress and send us careening into the next extinction-level event. If technology like the atom bomb made World War II so much worse than everything before it, doesn’t it follow that WWIII will be even more devastating?
It’s more complex than that, according to Kurzweil. He believes part of the reason we’re able to coexist so wonderfully (in the grand historical scheme) for so long is because democracy has begun to take hold globally. He also believes the rise of democracy is the direct result of advances made in communication technology. According to him:
You can count the number of democracies a century ago on the fingers of one hand, you can count the number of democracies two centuries ago on one finger. The world has become more peaceful. That doesn’t appear to be the case, because our information about what’s wrong with the world is getting exponentially better.
So what’s next? He believes we’ll…