Do we need to worry about how generative AI will change the world? Yes, but no more than we had to fear automation, the printing press, horseless carriages, and the Internet. The current technology revolution is analogous to the Industrial Revolutions and technology advancements of past centuries. University of Chicago history professor Ada Palmer is aware of humanity’s cyclical relationship with technology and she discusses it in her Microsoft Unlocked piece: “We Are An Information Revolution Species.”
Palmer explains that the human species has been living in an information revolution for twenty generations. She provides historical examples and how people bemoan changes. The changes arguably remove the “art” from tasks. These tasks, however, are simplified and allow humans to create more. It also frees up humanity’s time to conquer harder problems. Changes in technology spur a democratization of information. They also mean that jobs change, so humans need to adapt their skills for continual survival.
Palmer says that AI is just another tool as humanity progresses. She asserts that the bigger problems are outdated systems that no longer serve the current society. While technology has evolved so has humanity:
“This revolution will be faster, but we have something the Gutenberg generations lacked: we understand social safety nets. We know we need them, how to make them. We have centuries of examples of how to handle information revolutions well or badly. We know the cup is already leaking, the actor and the artist already struggling as the megacorp grows rich. Policy is everything. We know we can do this well or badly. The only sure road to real life dystopia is if we convince ourselves dystopia is unavoidable, and fail to try for something better.”
AI does need a social safety net so it does not transform into a sentient computer hellbent on world domination. Palmer should point out that humans learn from their imaginations too. Star Trek or 2001: A Space Odyssey anyone? Nah, too difficult. Just generate content and sell ads.
Whitney Grace, September 13, 2023
This content was originally published here.