Written by Philip Boucher,
Should we fear the future?
Humans are, on the whole, living longer and healthier lives than ever before. For many, these basic measures are enough to conclude that the world is becoming a better place. However, when we look at the headlines, it is clear that there remains a great deal of human suffering. Indeed, if we consider the growing threats of climate change, rising sea levels and mass extinction, as well as nuclear threats and political instability, some would find few reasons to be cheerful. Depending upon which variables we prioritise (equality, biodiversity, violence, poverty, CO2 levels, conflict, ozone layer depletion), and how we measure them, we can make rational arguments for optimistic or pessimistic views on the future of humanity.
Is it rational to be optimistic about artificial intelligence?
The picture is equally mixed when we consider new technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), which are predicted to have a huge impact on the future of humanity, for better or worse. For example, AI could bring substantial benefits to several aspects of our lives, from weather predictions to cancer diagnostics. At the same time, concerns have been raised that it could threaten many jobs and take over important decision-making processes without transparency.
Well-known figures have joined both sides of the debate. For example, Elon Musk shared concerns that AI posed an existential threat to the human race, while Bill Gates countered that the technology will make us more productive and creative. Beyond the headlines, however, both Gates and Musk recognise the opportunities and challenges of AI and call for reflection on how we can manage its development in a way that maximises its benefits without exposing us to danger.
Debating rational optimism and artificial intelligence at the European Parliament
The STOA workshop ‘Should we fear the future? Is it rational to be optimistic about artificial intelligence?’, chaired by Lead STOA Panel Member María Teresa Giménez Barbat (ALDE, Spain), presents an opportunity to learn more about these questions and participate in a debate with key experts in the subject.
The workshop will take place on 19 October 2017 at the European Parliament premises in Brussels, and will open with a keynote lecture from Steven Pinker (Harvard University), author of ‘The Better Angels of Our Nature’ (2011, Viking Books), which argues that violence in the world is declining in the short- and long-term, and explores how we can maintain this trend into the future. He will introduce the subject of rational optimism and answer the question: ‘Should we fear the future?’
This will be followed by a panel of four speakers who will explore AI technologies within this context, responding to the broad question of whether it is rational to be optimistic about AI. The panel will include presentations from Peter J. Bentley (University College London), Miles Brundage (University of Oxford), Olle Häggström (Chalmers University) and Thomas Metzinger (Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz), and will be followed by a Q&A session and a debate with all participants.
Interested in joining the debate? Register to attend or watch the live webstream on the STOA event page.