I agree, and something similar to this needles me periodically whenever my mind drifts into dorm room bull session mode.1 You see, I believe that we're only a few decades away from true artificial intelligence. I might be wrong about this, but put that aside for the moment. The point is that I believe it. And needless to say, that will literally change everything. If AI is ubiquitous by 2040 or so, nearly every long-term problem we face right now—medical inflation, declining employment, Social Security financing, returns to education, global warming, etc. etc.—either goes away or is radically transformed in ways we can't even imagine.I agree with Kevin that AI is the biggest deal out there. I also think it's coming, though I suspect it will take longer than 2040 to arrive fully* and that it will arrive in stages over the course of a number of decades. Indeed, in important ways we can already feel the early effects.
It's worth thinking about some things that won't change as a result of AI, or at least not quickly. Here's a draft list:
- There will still be 9 or 10 billion humans on the planet (or may the gods and goddesses help us).
- They will still want to live in big warm houses with lots of stuff, and travel around as much as they are able.
- They will still want to have sex and raise children.
- They will still be prone to getting very pissed if anyone tries to take their stuff away.
- The economy will still consist of competing corporations regulated by governments (it's just that both the corporations and governments will over time employ fewer and fewer humans).
- Humans will still have all the legal rights (I just don't see why we are ever going to think it's in our interest to give legal rights to algorithms).
It follows pretty immediately that most of our environmental problems, for example, won't be going anywhere as a result of AI.
On the other hand, we are going to have to go through some massive wrenching cultural adjustments in our ideas of work and dependency and how we derive meaning from our lives. Jamais Cascio recently coined the term the Burning Man Future, which I like. In particular, it captures the idea that the entire culture is going to increasingly have to become like what is currently a hippy artist fringe. Either that, or we need to decide that there are some things we really don't want to invent and stop working on this stuff.
* It's probably worth pointing out that I have spent most of my career designing statistical reasoning algorithms for a living so my intuitions here are at least somewhat educated. Of course, I could be as wrong as the next expert usually is.