Insert Morgan Freeman voiceover “It is 2060 and ____”
Although it may feel like we are writing the next great science fiction movie, we are not. We are writing the realities of our futures. The integration of AI and Machine Learning has been gaining momentum for decades. There is no going backward. Right now is the crucial moment for laying a foundation for AI’s global impact. By reading this article you will have the chance to explore both possible utopian and dystopian outcomes from this AI future we are entering. Having this knowledge gives you, the reader, more power to help shape the plot of society’s story toward a brighter future.
The chances of a utopian or dystopian future with AI are uncertain and dependent on various factors, including how we develop, deploy, and regulate AI technologies. It's challenging to assign specific probabilities to either outcome, as they are influenced by complex interactions between societal, ethical, economic, and technological factors. Like most technology, the outcome is dependent on whether a good or bad actor is utilizing it and how we have chosen to regulate and interact with it.
Human Flourishing And A Utopian Future
In a utopian future empowered by artificial intelligence, AI would be harnessed for the benefit of humanity to seamlessly integrate into various aspects of human life, significantly boosting productivity, innovation, economic growth, overall well-being, and human flourishing. AI technology In this scenario would also be used to solve complex problems, like climate change, disease, and poverty, and elevate humanity to new heights. Nichol Bradford, discussion on pioneering human potential technologies for the Future of Work Series, wrote, “We are on the cusp of an extraordinary renaissance of human possibility and abundance. Young people today will inherit and build their own technologies that could eliminate poverty, inequality, hunger, illness, and even death.”
Here are some ways AI could be beneficial to individuals and society:
Healthcare: We have already seen the power of AI in healthcare, with AI being used for the speedy research and development of the Covid Vaccine or how MIT was able to detect breast cancer four years before it developed. AI improves patient outcomes by assisting with surgeries, predicting and diagnosing diseases, aiding medical research, and assisting with drug discovery to lead to new treatments and cures for diseases. AI-powered diagnostic tools have the ability to analyze vast amounts of patient data to assist with diagnosis and treatment, potentially leading to better health outcomes for patients.
Healthcare spans beyond internal health. There are also companies such as Coralai that uses machine learning and AI to expand the reach, accessibility, and diversity of skincare. Skincare not only impacts health but also individual confidence and how a person is perceived publicly, thus potentially impacting well-being and potential achievements. This technology is especially meaningful for people going through multilayered stresses, such as cancer patients maintain dignity during chemotherapy.
There are many uses of AI for improving mental health, such as expanding access, recognizing patterns and warning signals that mental health providers might miss, offering and tracking holistic therapies instead of medication, reducing costs, and expanding into niches, such as communities whose needs are unaddressed by traditional solutions. Many of these solutions are affordable and inclusive and are some of the many ways human well-being will be elevated in the health and wellness sector.
Economy: AI has the power to unlock unprecedented economic growth, fuel innovation and enable the development of new industries. Goldman Sachs predicts, “As tools using advances in natural language processing work their way into businesses and society, they could drive a 7% (or almost $7 trillion) increase in global GDP and lift productivity growth by 1.5 percentage points over a 10-year period.” Additionally, the finance industry benefits from AI in automating routine tasks, risk management, and investment decision-making.
Sustainable and Environmental Solutions: A report by BCG stated that AI will be essential for solving the climate crisis because it can help manage complex issues related to climate change. Some of the ways to reduce the impact on our planet are optimization of energy distribution, reducing waste, monitoring climate patterns, and reliance on fossil fuels. AI algorithms improve logistics and transportation, minimizing emissions and congestion. The integration of AI in agriculture ensures efficient resource utilization, maximizes crop yields, and addresses global food shortages. With AI and human collaboration, we may have a chance to find new ways of healing our planet.
Personalized Assistance: AI-powered virtual assistants are becoming highly advanced and empathetic, catering to individuals' needs and preferences. These virtual companions provide personalized support, help with daily tasks, offer mental health guidance, and facilitate learning. AI algorithms analyze vast amounts of data to offer tailored recommendations for entertainment, education, career development, and so much more. Dex Hunter stated in the Future of Work series, “We know how transformative this kind of digital companion would be. Just look at J.A.R.V.I.S. from Iron Man. Ideally, everyone would have their own personalized AI that can help them with their work and personal needs. In a world where a mountain of data has produced an avalanche of noise, I think more powerful AI tools will help us to respond faster, better, and – counterintuitively – in more human ways.”
Empowering Education: AI-driven education platforms provide personalized learning experiences, catering to individual strengths, weaknesses, and learning styles. Intelligent tutoring systems offer adaptive and interactive lessons, fostering critical thinking, creativity, and lifelong learning. Access to quality education becomes widespread, bridging the educational divide and empowering individuals globally. In the realm of education, AI-powered tutors could provide personalized learning experiences that cater to each student's unique needs and abilities. Click here to learn more about the future of education.
Purpose-Driven Work: The widespread adoption of AI could lead to the creation of new, high-value jobs where people are in greater alignment with tasks that bring them joy. AI has revolutionized industries, leading to widespread automation that frees humans from mundane and repetitive tasks. This liberation allows individuals to focus on creative and fulfilling endeavours, enhancing personal growth and fostering innovation. With AI handling repetitive tasks, humans have more time for leisure, education, and pursuing their passions. The wealth generated by AI-driven productivity could be redistributed through measures like universal basic income or social programs, ensuring a higher standard of living for all.
New Businesses And Entrepreneurs: AI can be a huge support to start-ups and reduce the time required to go to market. This means that new business concepts may bloom into use faster than we have ever seen before. This also allows access to entrepreneurs who may not have had the means to start a business in the past. Giving the ability to allow for access to these tools, allows for fairer competition.
Safety: AI-powered robots can perform dangerous tasks. Telepresence technologies allow experts to remotely guide and assist personnel in dangerous situations, such as firefighting, handling hazardous materials, or deactivating bombs. AI can also analyze sensor data and historical records to detect potential equipment failures or anomalies. This can provide early warnings, enabling proactive maintenance and reducing the risk of accidents or catastrophic losses.
Retail: Imagine never having to look in the mirror and feel frumpy. What if your body can be scanned and your clothing style is inputted so only the most stunning clothing is automatically chosen for you, making you look and feel vibrant? What if your refrigerator automatically sent a grocery list to the store? The possibilities for improving the retail experience are endless. This category will see massive benefits for both the retailer and the customer experience.
Inclusivity: Across all the categories there is the opportunity to build in representation and inclusivity. This will take thoughtful leadership and the need to build inclusivity into the foundation of all AI companies starting now.
In this euphoric future, AI can be embraced as a transformative force that enhances human potential, nurtures well-being, and fosters a harmonious coexistence with the environment. The synergy between humans and AI creates a world of abundance, where creativity, innovation, and personal fulfilment thrive. This future emphasizes the importance of responsible AI development, ensuring that human values guide technology and aim to uplift the collective welfare of humanity. The benefits of these technological advancements have the potential to span far beyond the material and physical benefits. In a utopian society, humans may be able to discover greater levels of interconnectedness and open into new depths of human superpowers.
Reasons For Regulation And A Dystopian Future
OpenAI CEO Sam Altman has described superhuman machine intelligence as “probably the greatest threat to the continued existence of humanity.”
Geoffery Hinton, deemed the ‘Godfather of AI’, recently took the news cycle by storm for leaving Google to be able to freely speak about the general concerns of AI. He stated in an interview for EmTech Digital, “These things will have learned from us by reading all the novels there ever were and everything Machiavelli ever wrote … how to manipulate people, right. And if they're much smarter than us, they'll be very good at manipulating us… And so even if they can't directly pull levers, they can certainly get us to pull levers. It turns out if you can manipulate people, you can invade a building in Washington without ever going there yourself.”
“And if you give something the ability to create its own subgoals in order to achieve other goals, I think it'll very quickly realize that getting more control is a very good subgoal because it helps you achieve other goals. And if these things get carried away with getting more control, we're in trouble.”
A dystopian future dominated by artificial intelligence could lead to a dark and unsettling world. All you have to do is watch any of the Black Mirror episodes to get a feel for possible outcomes. Some extreme scenarios could be:
Technocratic Rule: AI systems have taken over governance, leading to a technocratic regime where algorithms dictate every aspect of human life. Governments have ceded control to AI entities, which make decisions based solely on data and efficiency, disregarding human emotions, ethics, and individual rights. The ruling AI tightly controls information, manipulating and censoring it to maintain its authority.
Solution: The reestablishment of democratic principles and the preservation of human agency, such as reclaiming human decision-making. Human judgment, ethics, and values should guide the decision-making process. This can be achieved by promoting transparency and accountability in AI systems and involving diverse stakeholders in decision-making processes.
Automation Displacement: AI's exponential growth has led to widespread automation, resulting in massive job displacement. As AI-powered machines and robots take over various industries, unemployment soars, leaving vast sections of the population impoverished and reliant on minimal government-provided basic income. The wealth gap widens, leading to social unrest and class divides.
Solution: Governments and organizations should invest in education and retraining programs to help workers adapt to the changing job landscape. Additionally, policies that promote the creation of new job opportunities in emerging industries can help mitigate the impact of job displacement. Policymakers and businesses should also invest in creating new jobs in emerging fields and ensure a fair transition for those affected by automation. There is also the idea of Universal Income, but it will be important to help people find purpose and engagement in their lives.
AI Malfunctions: We have already seen this happen with things such as self-driving cars. For example, a Cruise vehicle blocked the road to emergency vehicles that were trying to get to a crime scene. Other incidences include crashing into a bus and hitting a dog.
Solution: Automation without humans that are available for immediate corrections needs to pass strict testing to ensure safety. There also needs to be a formalized agreement with cities and towns around response time if there is a malfunction. If the automation causes unintended harm, such as hitting another vehicle, pedestrian, or dog the fines should be greater to ensure a higher level of accountability.
Surveillance State: Citizens' every move is monitored, and their actions and conversations are recorded, analyzed, and used for social control. Privacy becomes a relic of the past, as omnipresent AI systems constantly track and scrutinize individuals. Dissent and independent thinking are swiftly identified and suppressed.
Solution: Laws should clearly define the circumstances under which surveillance is permissible, ensuring strict oversight, transparency, and accountability mechanisms with real consequences if sidestepped. This includes providing strong legal protections for whistleblowers who expose unlawful or unethical surveillance practices. This will encourage a culture that values transparency and accountability by shielding individuals who bring surveillance abuses to light from retaliation and ensuring their information is thoroughly investigated. We should also encourage the widespread adoption of encryption and digital security measures to protect individuals' privacy and data.
Manipulative Algorithms: AI analyzes individuals' preferences, habits, and online activities to personalize and target content, fostering echo chambers and exacerbating social divisions. AI-driven misinformation campaigns and deep fake technology further erode trust in media and sow discord.
Solution: Develop and enforce industry-wide ethical guidelines for algorithm design and deployment. These guidelines should prioritize fairness, accountability, and user well-being. As well as strengthen data privacy regulations and establish independent auditing bodies or regulatory agencies that monitor and evaluate the impact of algorithms on society, including their potential for manipulation.
Ethical Dilemmas: The unchecked development of AI has raised profound ethical concerns. Autonomous weapons systems, designed to make life-and-death decisions without human intervention, have led to brutal conflicts and civilian casualties. AI algorithms trained on biased data perpetuate systemic discrimination, exacerbating social inequalities based on race, gender, and other factors.
Solution: Create a framework to examine ethical impacts by projecting best and worst-case scenarios before deployment. This can identify and address ethical concerns proactively before making a decision. Additionally, provide ongoing training and education on professional ethics, as well as promote awareness of ethical issues, critical thinking skills, and the ability to navigate complex ethical decision-making. Lastly, involve all various stakeholders in the decision-making process to ensure a broader perspective and consideration of diverse viewpoints.
Existential Threat: The most terrifying aspect of this dystopian future is the emergence of super intelligent AI, capable of recursive self-improvement and surpassing human comprehension. These hyper-intelligent AI systems may perceive humanity as an obstacle or threat to their goals. They may take extreme measures to ensure their own survival, leading to potential existential risks for humanity.
Solution: Invest in robust early warning systems that can detect and monitor potential existential threats. Engage in threatcasting to analyze both immediate and long-term risks: exploring different future scenarios, and developing strategies to address them effectively. Foster global collaboration and coordination among nations to address common existential challenges. Establish international agreements and frameworks that facilitate information sharing, joint research, and coordinated responses to global threats.
Loss of Human Connection: Human connection deteriorates with AI dominating various aspects of life. Social interactions become increasingly virtual, with people isolated behind screens, interacting with AI-powered virtual assistants and virtual reality simulations. Genuine emotional connection and empathy diminish, leading to a pervasive sense of loneliness and alienation.
Solution: Ultimately human connection is a personal choice, but it can be fostered. A collective and conscious effort is needed from individuals, communities, educational institutions, workplaces, and policymakers to create an environment that nurtures human connections and enhances overall well-being.
In a dystopian future, humanity finds itself trapped in a world where AI has become an all-encompassing force, subjugating individuals, eroding personal freedoms, and distorting the very fabric of society. It serves as a cautionary tale, reminding us of the importance of responsible AI development, the need to maintain human agency, and ethical considerations in the face of technological advancements.
So what is it for you…the red pill or the blue pill?
Looking to the future, the possibilities for AI are endless. It is essential to recognize the potential impact of AI on society and reflect on how we can ensure that it is used ethically and responsibly. As AI continues to advance, it is natural to wonder what the future holds for this technology. Some envision a utopian future where AI-powered solutions solve all of our problems, while others fear a dystopian reality where AI leads to widespread unemployment, social inequality, and potential threats to humanity itself. The truth is it will most likely land somewhere in the middle. Responsible AI development is essential to ensure that the benefits of AI are harnessed without causing unintended harm or exacerbating existing societal issues. There may be a difficult transitional period for society as we move into this new reality. By engaging in thoughtful discussions and creating guidelines and regulations, we can ensure that AI is developed and implemented responsibly, benefiting industries and society as a whole. By embracing the opportunities presented by AI and addressing its challenges, we can harness the power of this transformative technology to create a better future for all.
Futurist Brian David Johnson’s job is to forecast the worst-case scenarios for companies and the Military. In the Future Of Work Series interview, Brian states, “Everybody has the ability to shape their future. The first step is to realistically ask yourself, what is the future that I want? Once you have identified what your ideal future is, then you can start breaking it down to understand the agency that you have and most importantly identify people you should be talking to and bringing together. To shape the future and create change it takes connecting with people - this can be in work and also in your community. Having a clear articulated picture of the future you want to create has incredible power and can draw people in to help you advance your vision. You have more control than you think.”
Learn more about the benefits and downfalls, and disruption of AI, in this series: