Artificial Intelligence has always been hyped by its often-charismatic enthusiasts; lately it seems that the hype may be coming true. Media pundits, technologists, and increasingly the broader public see the rise of artificial intelligence as inevitable. Companies with mass data fed into AI systems—like Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and others—make headlines with technological successes that were science fiction even a decade ago: We can talk to our phones, get recommendations that are personalized to our interests, and may even ride around in cars driven by computers soon. The world has changed, and AI is a big part of why.
As one might expect, pundits and technologists talk about the “AI revolution” in the most glowing terms, equating advances in computer tech with advances in humanity: standards of living, access to knowledge, and a spate of emerging systems and applications ranging from improved hearing and vision aids for the impaired, to the cheaper manufacture of goods, to better recommendations from Amazon, Netflix, Pandora, and others. Artificial Intelligence is a measuring rod for progress, scientifically, technologically, and even socially.
But technological progress cuts both ways. Not surprisingly, the excitement about a coming artificial intelligence has inspired worrisome and cautionary commentary about the potential downside. This downside, like the upside, is expressed in stark and emotional terms. Nick Bostrom’s 2014 bestseller, Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, warns that AI could spell the end of humanity (literally). And the former IBM researcher turned e-marketing CEO Louis Del Monte, in his 2013 book, The Artificial Intelligence Revolution: Will Artificial Intelligence Serve Us or Replace Us?, agrees that AI is happening so fast that the changes could be cataclysmic. The National Geographic writer and filmmaker William Barrat, too, joined the fray in full-apocalyptic mode in Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era.