There Aren’t Two Sides To The AI Debate

We have been led into a dead-end debate between two opinions of AI.

One one side, there are the techno-optimists who believe that advancements in AI will usher in a new era of convenience, safety, and prosperity. The opposing side are Neo-Luddites who think that machines will destroy our livelihoods and then our very existence.

AI will either create a New Eden or usher in the Apocalypse. Magical promise or existential threat.

Only there is no debate between these two extremes. In fact, they don’t exist much beyond the machinations of people who have something to gain from casting the debate in such terms.

AI will create loads of benefits and huge risks, and it will do so by drastically remaking our world.

There is no debate about this fact. But there should be a debate about what we’re going to do about it.

AI is already changing how decisions get made and work gets done. Intelligent machines have been replacing human workers at desks and assembly lines for years. The capacities for LLMs to mimic human awareness and reasoning already challenge our conceptions of our own uniqueness.

And yet our public debate rarely gets past declarations about why these changes are good or bad.

Our public policies focus on doomed attempts to ensure that AIs operate “fairly” in specific instances while the unfairness of its widespread use go untouched.

Management consultants issue reports on the massive economic potential for using AI that send the stock market into rapturous swoons.

Governments establish committees and task bureaucrats with applying a light touch to AI development so as to not stifle innovation.

Academics blather mostly nonsense about AI, their jobs dependent on the very companies that stand to make money from its use.

AI experts pop up periodically to warn of impending doom as they shrug away their responsibility for it (and raise more cash to ensure it).

Where’s the international debate about where we’re going to get all of that electricity that AIs will consume? Where are the national Manhattan Projects devising ways to preclude or ameliorate the massive job displacements that are central to AI’s success? Why isn’t every organized religion encouraging their leaders and flocks to actively reexamine their spirituality?

The debate about AI should include all of these voices and focus on what we will get, and what we will have to pay, as use of the technology gets more common and consistent.

Those impacts are certain. So, there’s no need to love AI or hate it because there’s no debate.

Every day that passes in which we don’t acknowledge this truth surrenders the conversation to parties who see personal gain in casting it as a debate between two irreconcilable extremes.

And that’s the true existential threat.