November 18, 2019

Why the Left Should Fear AI

“I spend a disproportionate amount of time reading and talking to two somewhat niche groups of people in American politics: democratic socialists of the Sen. Bernie Sanders variety (or maybe a bit to the left of that), and left-libertarians from the Bay Area who are interested in effective altruism.

These are both small groups, but they have social and intellectual influence bigger than their numbers. And while from a distance they look similar (I’m sure they both vote for Democrats in general elections, say), there’s a big issue on which they part ways where collaboration could be productive: artificial intelligence safety.

Effective altruists have, for complex sociological reasons I explored in a podcast episode, become very interested in AI as a potential “existential risk”: a force that could, in extreme circumstances, wipe out humanity, just as nuclear war or asteroid strikes could.

Kelsey Piper has a comprehensive Vox explainer of these arguments, and I take them seriously, but most friends to my left do not. A typical reaction is that of Elmo Keep, who dismisses AI doomsday arguments as “the stuff of stoned freshmen who’ve read too much Neal Stephenson.”

It doesn’t help that alt-right funder extraordinaire Peter Thiel has long supported research into AI safety, especially at the Machine Intelligence Research Institute, whose founder Eliezer Yudkowsky is nearly as polarizing as Thiel is.”

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