Physicist Stephen Hawking and the tech billionaires Bill Gates and Elon Musk issued a similar warning last year. Hawking warned that AI “could spell the end of the human race” and Musk said it represents “our biggest existential threat”.
The fear of artificial intelligence has even reached the UN, where a group billing itself the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots met with diplomats last year.
Vardi, a professor at Rice University and Guggenheim fellow, said that technology presents a more subtle threat than the masterless drones that some activists fear. He suggested AI could drive global unemployment to 50%, wiping out middle-class jobs and exacerbating inequality.
Unlike the industrial revolution, Vardi said, “the AI revolution” will not be a matter of physically powerful machines that outperform human laborers, but rather a contest between human wit and mechanical intelligence and strength. In China, the question has already affected thousands of jobs, as electronics manufacturers, Foxconn and Samsung among them, develop precision robots to replace human workers.
In his talk, the computer scientist alluded to economist John Maynard Keynes’ rosy vision of a future in which billions worked only a few hours a week, with intelligent machines to support their easy lifestyles – a prediction embraced wholesale by Google head of engineering Ray Kurzweil, who believes “the singularity” of super-AI could bring about utopia for a future hybrid of mankind.
“Humanity is about to face perhaps its greatest challenge ever, which is finding meaning in life after the end of ‘in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread’,” he said. “We need to rise to the occasion and meet this challenge.”