What do you think about the current debate about artificial intelligence? Elon Musk has said it poses an existential threat to humanity.
Technology has always been a double-edged sword, since fire kept us warm but burned down our houses. It’s very clear that overall human life has gotten better, although technology amplifies both our creative and destructive impulses. A lot of people think things are getting worse, partly because that’s actually an evolutionary adaptation: It’s very important for your survival to be sensitive to bad news. A little rustling in the leaves may be a predator, and you better pay attention to that. All of these technologies are a risk. And the powerful ones—biotechnology, nanotechnology, and A.I.—are potentially existential risks. I think if you look at history, though, we’re being helped more than we’re being hurt.
How will artificial intelligence and other technologies impact jobs?
We have already eliminated all jobs several times in human history. How many jobs circa 1900 exist today? If I were a prescient futurist in 1900, I would say, “Okay, 38% of you work on farms; 25% of you work in factories. That’s two-thirds of the population. I predict that by the year 2015, that will be 2% on farms and 9% in factories.” And everybody would go, “Oh, my God, we’re going to be out of work.” I would say, “Well, don’t worry, for every job we eliminate, we’re going to create more jobs at the top of the skill ladder.” And people would say, “What new jobs?” And I’d say, “Well, I don’t know. We haven’t invented them yet.”
That continues to be the case, and it creates a difficult political issue because you can look at people driving cars and trucks, and you can be pretty confident those jobs will go away. And you can’t describe the new jobs, because they’re in industries and concepts that don’t exist yet.