That's one of the surprising -- and unsettling -- questions Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari asks in his much-quoted new book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. Whereas 20th-century technology favored democracies as they were able to distribute power to make decisions among many people and institutions, according to Harari, artificial intelligence (AI) might make centralized systems that concentrate all information and power far more efficient as machine learning works better with more information to analyze. "If you disregard all privacy concerns and concentrate all the information relating to a billion people in one database," Harari writes, "you'll wind up with much better algorithms than if you respect individual privacy and have in your database only partial information on a million people." The rise of AI swinging the pendulum from democracies toward authoritarian regimes is just one of the feared adverse impacts of technologies: Others include job displacement, concentration of power, diminishing privacy, rising income inequality and losing our "free will." Yet most people have little or no knowledge about how AI, blockchain, the Internet of Things or genetic engineering could affect their lives.
The rapid development of so-called NBIC technologies – nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science – are giving rise to possibilities that have long been the domain of science fiction. Disease, ageing and even death are all human realities that these technologies seek to end. They may enable us to enjoy greater'morphological freedom' – we could take on new forms through prosthetics or genetic engineering. The rapid development of NBIC technologies – nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science – are giving rise to possibilities that have been the domain of science fiction. 'Transhumanism' is the idea that humans should transcend their current natural state and limitations through the use of technology – that we should embrace self-directed human evolution. If the history of technological progress can be seen as humankind's attempt to tame nature to better serve its needs, transhumanism is the logical continuation: the revision of humankind's nature to better serve its fantasies.
Humans have been here before--at least three times before, in fact. At first, it was steam and water power; then came electricity and mass production; and then IT and computerization. Each time, Joseph Schumpeter's "gale of creative destruction" blustered as rapid advances in technology destroyed some jobs, paved the way for new lines of work, and ultimately provided enhanced productivity and lifestyles for the majority. Researchers predict that over the next decade or so, emerging technological breakthroughs will once again fundamentally alter jobs and manufacturing processes around the world--but this time, the consequences could be drastically different. There is little debate that robots are coming for our jobs.
Displaced workers transition to new jobs, some of which are created by automation. The government helps to facilitate this transition via investments in training and education. Increased productivity raises incomes, lowers work hours (average work time in the U.S. has fallen more than 50% since the early 1900s5), and lowers prices, creating more demand for goods and services, leading to more jobs and broader economic growth. How well do we expect this pattern to hold with AI-enabled automation in the near future, and will they replace jobs faster than they create them?