Wednesday, July 14, 2021

The A.I. Revolution, Trillionaires and the Future of Political Power.

I want to point to a fascinating Ezra Klein podcast - you can read the transcript here - that is an interview with Sam Altman, the C.E.O. of OpenAI, which is one of the biggest and most interesting of the companies trying to create general purpose artificial intelligence. His recent essay titled "Moore's Law for Everything" has received wide comment, and it's topics are the focus of the interview. Klein notes: "what caught my eye about this essay, “Moore’s Law for Everything,” is Altman’s effort to try and imagine the political consequences of true artificial intelligence and the policies that could decide whether it ushers in utopia or dystopia." I'm going to pass on only clips from Klein's general introductions to give you a taste of the direction of the arguments, and urge you to read both the transcript of the podcast and Altman's essay.
“The technological progress we make in the next 100 years will be far larger than all we’ve made since we first controlled fire and invented the wheel...This revolution will generate enough wealth for everyone to have what they need, if we as a society manage it responsibly.”...Altman's argument is this: Since the 1970s, computers have gotten exponentially better even as they’re gotten cheaper, a phenomenon known as Moore’s Law. Altman believes that A.I. could get us closer to Moore’s Law for everything: it could make everything better even as it makes it cheaper. Housing, health care, education, you name it.
A.I. will create phenomenal wealth, but it will do so by driving the price of a lot of labor to basically zero. That is how everything gets cheaper. It’s also how a lot of people lose their jobs...To make that world a good world for people, to make that a utopia rather than a dystopia, it requires really radical policy change to make sure the wealth A.I. creates is distributed broadly. But if we can do that, he says, well, then we can improve the standard of living for people more than we ever have before in less time. So Altman’s got some proposals here for how we can do that. They’re largely proposals to tax wealth and land. And I push on them here.
This is a conversation, then, about the political economy of the next technological age. Some of it is speculative, of course, but some of it isn’t. That shift of power and wealth is already underway. Altman is proposing an answer: a move toward taxing land and wealth, and distributing it to all. We talk about that idea, but also the political economy behind it: Are the people gaining all this power and wealth really going to offer themselves up for more taxation? Or will they fight it tooth-and-nail?
We also discuss who is funding the A.I. revolution, the business models these systems will use (and the dangers of those business models), how A.I. would change the geopolitical balance of power, whether we should allow trillionaires, why the political debate over A.I. is stuck, why a pro-technology progressivism would also need to be committed to a radical politics of equality, what global governance of A.I. could look like, whether I’m just “energy flowing through a neural network,” and much more.
(You can also listen to the whole conversation by following “The Ezra Klein Show” on Apple, Spotify, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.)

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