The Useless Class

AI frightens many people because they don’t trust it to remain obedient. Science fiction makes much of the possibility that computers or robots will develop consciousness—and shortly thereafter will try to kill all humans. But there is no particular reason to believe that AI will develop consciousness as it becomes more intelligent. We should instead fear AI because it will probably always obey its human masters, and never rebel. AI is a tool and a weapon unlike any other that human beings have developed; it will almost certainly allow the already powerful to consolidate their power further.

Yuval Noah Harari

I like this quote because it shows a better understanding of where AI is likely to go in the foreseeable future. Rather than anticipating general machine intelligence with plans of its own — which is a red herring — the threat of AI is that it can be a powerful weapon used by a few people to exert control (even just de facto control) over a large number of them. 

This quote comes from this article n Bloomberg. Earlier this week I learned Harari’s name from this article in the NYT, which contains this passage:

Everyone in Silicon Valley is focused on building the future, Mr. Harari continued, while most of the world’s people are not even needed enough to be exploited. “Now you increasingly feel that there are all these elites that just don’t need me,” he said. “And it’s much worse to be irrelevant than to be exploited.”

The useless class he describes is uniquely vulnerable. “If a century ago you mounted a revolution against exploitation, you knew that when bad comes to worse, they can’t shoot all of us because they need us,” he said, citing army service and factory work.

Now it is becoming less clear why the ruling elite would not just kill the new useless class. “You’re totally expendable,” he told the audience.