Discussions of A.G.I. are rife with such apocalyptic scenarios. Yet a nascent A.G.I. lobby of academics, investors and entrepreneurs counter that, once made safe, A.G.I. would be a boon to civilization...This is why, for all the hand-wringing, so many smart people in the tech industry are toiling to build this controversial technology: not using it to save the world seems immoral.
They are beholden to an ideology that views this new technology as inevitable and, in a safe version, as universally beneficial. Its proponents can think of no better alternatives for fixing humanity and expanding its intelligence.
But this ideology — call it A.G.I.-ism — is mistaken. The real risks of A.G.I. are political and won’t be fixed by taming rebellious robots. The safest of A.G.I.s would not deliver the progressive panacea promised by its lobby. And in presenting its emergence as all but inevitable, A.G.I.-ism distracts from finding better ways to augment intelligence.
Unbeknown to its proponents, A.G.I.-ism is just a bastard child of a much grander ideology, one preaching that, as Margaret Thatcher memorably put it, there is no alternative, not to the market.
Rather than breaking capitalism, as Mr. Altman has hinted it could do, A.G.I. — or at least the rush to build it — is more likely to create a powerful (and much hipper) ally for capitalism’s most destructive creed: neoliberalism.
Fascinated with privatization, competition and free trade, the architects of neoliberalism wanted to dynamize and transform a stagnant and labor-friendly economy through markets and deregulation.
Some of these transformations worked, but they came at an immense cost. Over the years, neoliberalism drew many, many critics, who blamed it for the Great Recession and financial crisis, Trumpism, Brexit and much else.
It is not surprising, then, that the Biden administration has distanced itself from the ideology, acknowledging that markets sometimes get it wrong. Foundations, think tanks and academics have even dared to imagine a post-neoliberal future.
Yet neoliberalism is far from dead. Worse, it has found an ally in A.G.I.-ism, which stands to reinforce and replicate its main biases: that private actors outperform public ones (the market bias), that adapting to reality beats transforming it (the adaptation bias) and that efficiency trumps social concerns (the efficiency bias).
These biases turn the alluring promise behind A.G.I. on its head: Instead of saving the world, the quest to build it will make things only worse. Here is how.
A.G.I. will never overcome the market’s demands for profit.
A.G.I. will dull the pain of our thorniest problems without fixing them.
A.G.I. undermines civic virtues and amplifies trends we already dislike.
Depending on how (and if) the robot rebellion unfolds, A.G.I. may or may not prove an existential threat. But with its antisocial bent and its neoliberal biases, A.G.I.-ism already is: We don’t need to wait for the magic Roombas to question its tenets.