Max Tegmark Hopes To Save Us From AI’s Worst Case Scenarios


By Peter High. Published in Forbes.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is one of the hottest trends pursued by the private sector, academics, and government institutions. The promise of AI is to make our lives better: to have an electronic brain to complement our own, to take over menial tasks so that we can focus on higher value activities, to allow us to make better decisions in our personal and professional lives. There is also a darker side to AI that many fear. What happens when bad actors leverage AI for bad uses? How will we ensure that AI is not a wedge to divide the haves and have-nots further apart? Moreover, what happens when our jobs are fundamentally changed or go away when we derive so much of what defines us from what we do professionally?

Max Tegmark has studied these issues intimately from his perch as a professor at MIT and as the  co-founder of the Future of Life Institute. He has synthesized his own thoughts into a powerful book called Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence. As the title suggests, AI will redefine what it means to be human due to the scale of the changes it will bring about.

Tegmark likes the analogy of the automobile to make the case for what is necessary for AI to be beneficial for humanity. He notes that the three things that are necessary are that it have an engine (the power to create value), it needs steering (so that it can be moved toward good rather than evil ends), and it must have direction or a roadmap for how to get to the beneficial destination. He notes that “the way to create a good future with technology is to continuously win the wisdom race. As technology grows more powerful, the wisdom in which we manage it must keep up.” He describes all of this and more in this interview.

(To listen to an unabridged podcast version of this interview, please click this link. This is the 31st interview in the Tech Influencers series. To listen to past interviews with the likes of former Mexican President Vicente Fox, Sal Khan, Sebastian Thrun, Steve Case, Craig Newmark, Stewart Butterfield, and Meg Whitman, please visit this link. To read future articles in this series, please follow me on on Twitter @PeterAHigh.)

Peter High: Congratulations on your book, Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence. When and where did your interest in the topic of Artificial Intelligence [AI] begin?

Max Tegmark: I was extremely curious as a kid. I remember lying in my hammock between two apple trees as a teenager and thinking that the two greatest mysteries were the universe out there and the universe in here, in our mind. I spent 25 years of my career studying the former, and in recent years, I have become more fascinated by the latter. I am increasingly interested in the science of intelligence, and I have shifted my MIT research group to work on AI. In parallel with my day job, I have spent many nights and weekends brainstorming how we can ensure that AI’s growing impact on society is going to be beneficial, rather than harmful.

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