The Future of AI and Humanity: The Augmented Intelligence Summit 2019

It’s 2045. MegaCorp (Google?) has created very advanced AI that works with and for humanity and which has helped governments collaborate to solve many of the environmental and social problems that beset us. Poverty has been all-but-eradicated by redistribution of a willingly-given “Windfall Tax” on the trillion-dollar profits of MegaCorp. Removed from the need to do paid work in order to have a comfortable life, humanity lives in a world dominated by creativity, empathy and self-actualization. “Work” has become the activity of establishing goals for caring, learning and creativity, and enjoying the journey towards those goals to create a good life for ourselves and others.

… that was the setup for a fascinating meeting at 1440 Multiversity near Santa Cruz, California. The Augmented Intelligence Summit brought together scientists, thinkers, entrepreneurs, politicians, writers, social scientists and others to think about the future. We were given the setup in the previous paragraph and asked to suspend our disbelief and simply accept this vision of 2045. This framed a very positive approach to considering what sort of decisions and actions we might take now to create a utopian future, encouraging “Yes, and…” rather than “Yes, but…”. Three organizations brought it all together, the Future of Life Institute, The Foresight Institute and the Partnership on AI. These organisations bring together an impressive roster of thinkers and philanthropists thinking hard about and making practical steps towards a brighter future.

Four days of creativity and invention ensued… we warmed up by considering a day in the life of utopian 2045. We tried to get inside the head of Beth, a 20-year-old California student who started the day by having breakfast with Yukie, a friend living thousands of miles away in Japan. Beth’s life was shared with an AI “angel on her shoulder” which empowered her and leveraged her own creativity while allowing her to access information and nudging her to what she needed to know (rather than being driven by profit or short-term thinking). Beth lives in a community of around 100 people with high levels of mutual trust and common ownership. While receiving a universal income, Beth adds value by making her diaries available so that others can benefit from her good and bad experiences. If it all sounds flowery and idealised, that’s because utopia is (at least for Beth). Others might like their utopia more spikey (I would) but through the spikiness of discussion and creative failure rather than of impending social and ecological doom!

There were some great speakers, including Gaia Dempsey (7th Future and the Future of Life Institute), Stuart Russell (UC Berkeley and co-author of the AI textbook), David Krakauer (Santa Fe Institute), Max Tegmark (MIT and the Future of Life Institute), Anthony Aguirre (UC Santa Cruz and the Future of Life Institute), Shahar Avin (U Cambridge Centre for the Study of Existential Risk), David Haussler (UC Santa Cruz), and Alison Duettmann (Foresight Institute).

A particularly standout session was enacting a future scenario where we played the roles of a group of world leaders gathered in a bunker in Essex, England to agree to a redistribution of windfall tax between Asia, Europe, the US and the rest of the world while threats and missiles were flying. Attempting to deliberately inhabit the mind and thought processes of a world leader in a climate of strange incentives (the most obvious of which being that doing the things that win elections run rather counter to doing things that lead to good futures in the current climate – a primary focus of the meeting!).

Inspired by our role play session a group of us set about outlining designs for card, board and video games that would allow exploration of short-term versus long-term policies, understanding the impact of empowering creativity and distributing wealth, understanding how policies look from the point of view of the person who receives the worst deal, using mars colonisation to understand how small idealised communities might yield approaches applicable on a larger scale.

A positive and inspirational group – I hope to write much more about the progress resulting from the meeting – especially in designing and building games to aid understanding of how to make decisions leading to good long-term futures.

One action I have just taken is to sign up to the Asilomar AI Principles which have been signed up to and agreed by many scientists and thinkers working in AI and AI policy, in particular that an arms race in lethal autonomous weapons should be avoided (and Government/funders/scientists very strongly discouraged from working in such areas).

If we want a utopian future – we need to work together to create and take the next step. Now!