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Ralph Stayer

This month, I want to discuss two books on the same subject. AI (artificial intelligence) is going to have a step function change to our world as we know it. One need look no further than the internet to see how rapidly our world is changing. AI has changed how we live; it will change who we are. Much good can ensue from this technology, but as with any technological innovation, there are bad aspects which must be considered and ameliorated. The Age of AI (And Our Human Future) by Henry Kissinger, Eric Schmidt and Daniel Huttenlocher focuses on the present and looks to the future. AI 2041 (Ten Visions for Our Future) by Kai-Fu Lee and Chen Qiufan gives us a picture of what our world could be like 20 years from now when AI is enabled by the immense power of quantum computing.

We start with the present. The authors use the example of Alpha-Zero to help us understand the nature of AI. The world’s most powerful chess program, Stockfish, was built by humans using thousands of chess games that had been played. It used superior processing power to defeat other chess programs using strategies developed by humans. It was destroyed by Alpha-Zero 155 to 6. Alpha-Zero was not programmed by humans; it was given the rules of chess and instructed to learn to win. It taught itself strategies never thought of by humans. That is the crux of the matter. AI will be able to process massive amounts of data and see patterns that human brains cannot.

Kissinger et. al. detail the epochs of human development from the Greek philosophers to the present. We currently live in the Age of Reason, when humans stand alone at the top of the pyramid. That is about to change. AI is going to be far more powerful than humans in some ways. It can see patterns in vast amounts of data that it are impossible for humans to see. This will accelerate dramatically as quantum computers become more and more powerful. Humans have been at the top of the intelligence chain, and now they are going to have to make room for another intelligence. How we see ourselves in the face of this new reality and adapt to it is yet to be determined.

The Age of AI takes a strategic look at the threats and opportunities AI will bring with it. Cyber warfare is perhaps the gravest global threat because it makes it possible to attack anonymously. The authors point out some benefits that make developing AI worthwhile, but most of the book details possible threats and what might be done now to prevent them in the future. The bottom line is that regardless of the threats, this genie cannot be put back into the bottle. AI is here to stay. The authors’ title implies a name for our next age. If that is their intention, I disagree. AI will not supplant humans; humans will harness the power of AI to make a better world as they have with every scientific discovery. Just as our current age is called the Age of Reason, not the Age of Science, for our purposes, let’s call our next epoch the Age of Combined Intelligence. This better reflects humankind’s history of adapting every scientific advance to their purposes.

AI 2041 takes us forward 20 years and forecasts how AI will influence us in the Age of Combined Intelligence. Kai-Fu Lee and Chen Qiufan created 10 scenarios about the various implications that the authors in the previous book wrote about. Each story is about a protagonist’s life in the new age and how it might be affected by AI. These are simplistic stories that bring an aspect of the impact of AI down to a level we can understand and relate to. For instance, there is no question that AI will replace millions of jobs. This isn’t just robotics replacing hourly labor—many entry-level and middle-level managers also will be unnecessary. Entire industries will disappear. What will happen to those people? Will there be better or different jobs? What will happen to their self-worth? How will this affect their relationships with family, their friends and community? It will be possible to create autonomous weapons that, once deployed, can decide when to kill without any human interaction. There are other scenarios that bring to light many benefits, as well: new and better drugs, more leisure time, better health, better services, to name a few. Strap on your seatbelt (the ride is going to be bumpy) and make ready for a future you have not and cannot imagine.

Ralph Stayer, an avid reader and former CEO of Johnsonville Sausage, leads a book club in Naples with about a dozen other high-power friends. The group only reads non-fiction as a way to keep learning and sharpening the mind. Every month, Stayer shares the latest page-turners earning a permanent spot on his ever-expanding bookshelves.

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