🔮 The horizon for 2024: The biggest questions on the horizon
Society of AI, massive election year, and humanoid robots.
Over the past two weeks, I shared eight themes I will be paying particular attention to this year. Today’s email completes the horizon scan with the final four themes. As a reminder, I previously covered…
How to think about the unknowability and the transition time we are experiencing? Read here
The deepening of the energy and intelligence fabric — on the business, science and market expansion of new energy and AI. Read here
Making sense of the allure of small technologies and decentralisation as they gather speed. Read here
OK, let’s get into the last four themes:
AI, democracy and our epistemic foundations,
The society of AI,
How to think about humanoid robots,
Human speed and temperance technologies.
🗳️ Democracy and the epistemic quake
Over four billion people are expected to vote in 2024. There is now a howling gap between the minority of the world population living under democratic governance, and the vast majority living under one form or another of autocratic rule.
The swing towards autocracy is not inoculated by advanced technology. However, the 2024 election manipulation risks are not — and should not be represented as — mostly about AI. To be sure, those risks exist.
AI will make it easier to create false claims; social media will make it easy to distribute them; the media business model will make it easy to amplify them; journalists trained for the last battle will make it easy to give credence to them.
The entire knowledge ecosystem — how we agree on the standards of truth, how facts get created and verified, and whether the recipient is willing to be critical and sceptical — has been in crisis for a long time. Social media stands as one prominent culprit. Equally significant, particularly in the United States, was the ripple effect of the Reagan-era repeal of the fairness doctrine in 1987.
The long-standing agreement on the essentials of democracy, characterized by periodic voting, adult suffrage, and political representation via bureaucratically structured parties, had been coming under strain before the advent of AlexNet. Polarisation, too: I studied polarisation in American politics as an undergraduate in 1992. Things may have exacerbated, but it’s absurdly monocausal to put the blame solely on either large-scale matrix multiplication or East Palo Alto.
The voting this year, whichever way it goes, further raises the importance of thinking about what structural reforms can be brought to refresh the notion of government of the people, by the people, for the people1. Last year, I spoke about this with Professor Hélène Landemore, whose work opened up horizons to think about a new paradigm of democracy.
Similarly, the members of the information ecosystem (from media organisations to internet distributor-amplifiers to the political classes and others) need to rethink what it is to value, invest in and increase the epistemic integrity within our societies.
I’ll be watching for glimmers of these.
✨ The society of AI: From monocognitism to syncognitism
I want to emphasise a point I made back in October of last year. In research and fiction, AI in society has often been presented as a singleton, a single all-powerful AI system. Once AGI has been achieved, that singular AI will outperform all other AIs and there will be one true AI.