The world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking made a disturbing prediction for humanity’s future with artificial intelligence in a Reddit AMA, suggesting that our drive toward technology and automation could accelerate inequality:
If machines produce everything we need, the outcome will depend on how things are distributed — everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution.
So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.
This isn’t the first time Hawking has made a point about how increasingly advanced technology could potentially harm humanity. He’s been vocal in the past about the dangers that super-intelligent AI could unleash on the world. In a 2014 BBC interview, Hawking said that he believes “the development of full artificial intelligence [AI] could spell the end of the human race.”
He also recently co-wrote an op-ed in The Independent with AI researcher Stuart Russell and Max Tegmark that included this startling statement: “Creating AI would be the biggest event in human history. Unfortunately it might also be the last … AI may transform our economy to bring both great wealth and great dislocation”
Many AI researchers think that any AI that could potentially pose an threat to humanity is either impossible or far away. But they do agree that intelligent AI could have dire consequences for employment and inequality.
Toby Walsh, a professor in AI at the National Information and Communications Technology Australia told Tech Insider that in the future, there wouldn’t be a job that AI couldn’t do.
“It’s hard to think of a job that a computer ultimately won’t be able to do as well if not better than we can do,” Walsh told Tech Insider. “There are various forces in play, and one of those forces is technology. Technology is actually a force that is tending to concentrate and widen the inequality gaps. This is a challenge not for scientists but one for society to address, of how are we going to work through these changes.”
AI and even technology in general are not the only or even necessarily the most significant forces driving economic changes. But whatever the cause, Hawking is mostly right about the result.
By the end of 2015, the percentage of the global population living in extreme poverty is projected to drop to the lowest numbers ever. Unfortunately, at the same time, inequality and income disparity is rising throughout the world.
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