Artificial Intelligence's Rise Means Change Will Happen Even Faster | Opinion

Artificial Intelligence's Rise Means Change Will Happen Even Faster

A year and a few months ago it was not obvious to most people that artificial intelligence, in particular GPT-4, would be so transformative across so many dimensions.

By:BLOOMBERG
| Updated on: Dec 30 2023, 06:45 IST
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Expert opinion now expects AI to surpass humans in most fields of intellectual endeavor in less than 10 years (Pixabay)

 So what did we learn this year? Specifically, I am asking how the real-world events of the past 12 months should have caused us to update our social scientific views. In a year rich with news, which insights turned out to be more useful, or less? The first big lesson from 2023 is hopeful: Huge gains in technology can be made very quickly.

A year and a few months ago it was not obvious to most people that artificial intelligence, in particular GPT-4, would be so transformative across so many dimensions. Now that view has become conventional wisdom. In fact, expert opinion now expects AI to surpass humans in most fields of intellectual endeavor in less than 10 years. I know many experts in the field who think it will be in less than five years. By some metrics, and at great cost, AGI (artificial general intelligence) might even be possible right now.

So we have learned that what may prove to be one of the most important advances in human history can sneak up on most people in little more than a year. We thus need to update our thinking about whether major innovations can come seemingly “out of nowhere,” following periods of relative stagnation. (In similar fashion, in early 2020 many experts thought a Covid vaccine would take years to develop, when in fact mRNA vaccines were effective and available in less than a year.)

Theories of sudden leaps should therefore rise in status. Yes, these breakthroughs depend in part on the slow accretion of expertise and execution — but then they burst onto the scene.

Another takeaway from 2023 is more depressing: Deterrence is less powerful than I thought. Persistence, combined with a belief in one's cause, is worth more.

The Israeli military is much stronger than Hamas, for example, and is currently proving that on the ground. Yet that did not stop Hamas from proceeding with a violent incursion into Israel. In Ukraine, substantial support from the US and other NATO nations has not stopped Russia from pursuing a war, even with very heavy losses in terms of its military power and international reputation. Russian President Vladimir Putin simply wants Ukraine, and believes some parts of it rightfully belong to Russia.

None of this is good news for the US, which relies on deterrence to support its numerous alliances. It is also bad news for the world at large, because deterrence tends to support peaceful outcomes and the status quo.

Which leads me to another piece of academic research: I am increasingly inclined to reject psychologist Steven Pinker's view that the world is becoming more peaceful. Unfortunately, the available evidence suggests that international conflict is on the rise again, after a long period of decline. Cyclical theories of world peace and conflict — in particular the idea that peace eventually breeds the conditions for war — are thus due for an upgrade.

One last lesson from 2023: Governance doesn't matter … until it does.

My example is America's universities, in particular the recent disputes over antisemitism on campus, academic freedom, student safety and more. I will not try to sort out all these issues, but suffice to say that from all points of view they have been a public-relations disaster for US higher education. In that sense, if no other, their performance has to be viewed as abysmal.

In part that is because their governing mechanisms are not adequate for addressing a crisis or resolving substantive issues. MIT has 74 board members, and the University of Pennsylvania board has 48 who can vote, in addition to 36 emeritus members who can attend and speak at meetings. Those large boards were created in part to honor donors or give them a voice. But now decisions need to be made, and the system is responding in a creaky and vacillating manner.

Overall, if I had to sum up 2023, I would say the world came up with more surprises than social scientists might have expected. One of those surprises — failed deterrence — counts as very negative, while AI holds the potential to be very positive.

Which way will the balance tilt in 2024? That may depend on the quality of our governance.

 

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First Published Date: 30 Dec, 06:44 IST
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