Unleashing artificial general intelligence: utopia or dystopia?

Discover the compelling potential while exploring the ethical implications of an AGI-defined future.

In 2023, tech giants are racing to leverage generative AI. Many are already looking beyond the capabilities of ChatGPT, while creatives are excited about the potential of text-to-video technology showcased in new applications such as Runway.

As we gleefully experiment, much like children with powerful new toys, we may unknowingly be inching toward a future defined by Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). But is this brave new digital world, where machines possess diverse reasoning abilities on par with humans, a utopian or dystopian concept?

AGI is a type of AI that can comprehend and excel at any intellectual pursuit a human can tackle. Unlike current AI systems, which are limited to specific tasks, AGI can learn and perform every cognitive task humans can, from playing chess and crafting poetry to solving complex mathematical problems.

Will AGI take my job?

Despite many big tech companies promoting the fiction that AI will not remove jobs, it's difficult to see any other outcome. As AGI systems become more advanced, numerous tasks currently performed by humans, such as data management, analysis, customer service, and even specific specialized roles, could eventually be automated. This shift will significantly affect the job market, potentially leading to substantial job losses and unemployment.

AGI systems could automate repetitive, routine, or rule-based tasks as they become more advanced. However, before hitting the panic button, it's important to remember that we’ve been here before. In the last 25 years, we’ve said goodbye to Blockbuster video, switchboard operators, camera film processing stores, and fax machines.

However, as technology and society have evolved over the past 20 years, numerous new job roles have emerged to meet the changing demands and challenges of the modern world. It's hard to comprehend today that positions like social media managers, mobile app developers, cloud architects, data scientists, user experience designers, content strategists, chief listening officers, cyber security analysts, and machine learning engineers barely existed just 20 years ago.

For these reasons alone, it's safe to assume that AGI will also give rise to new industries and occupations. As these systems become more prevalent, there’ll be a demand for professionals to develop, maintain, and improve AGI technologies, generating new job opportunities and career paths. Furthermore, AGI will drive innovation, offering novel products, services, and technologies that benefit society and the economy as a whole.

Get back to being human

Jobs requiring a high level of creativity, emotional intelligence, or complex problem-solving are less likely to be replaced by AGI. Human interaction, empathy, and nuanced understanding of cultural or social contexts are areas where humans still hold a significant advantage over AI systems. Contrary to popular opinion, it's not technical skills that have held many workers back but robotic processes that have prevented them from using human intuition, imagination, leadership, and freedom to innovate.

AGI will undoubtedly disrupt some job roles and tasks. But is the removal of repetitive mundane tasks, where workers perform the same daily routine, really getting the best out of a human workforce? As AGI and other technologies transform industries, new opportunities will emerge. By developing transferable skills, embracing lifelong learning, and staying informed about trends and advancements in your field, you can increase your chances of adapting and thriving in the changing job landscape.

The power and peril of AI: a call for thoughtful leadership

We live in an age where big tech races forward, proudly proclaiming its ambition to move fast and break things. Clad in Patagonia power vests, the tech elite flaunts their perceived invincibility, oblivious to the long-term societal implications of their innovations. The swift and thoughtless adoption of technology has led to the outsourcing of our cognitive faculties to the devices that live in our pockets. With the advent of AGI, we’re on the cusp of further cementing our dependence on tech and promoting the slow decay of critical thinking.

The potential pitfalls of AGI are profound. In the hands of those with malicious intent, we could see malware, spam emails, and phishing scams reach unforeseen heights. More alarmingly, the unscrupulous few may use AGI to seize control of entire nations, employing sophisticated surveillance systems that use facial recognition and CCTV, all managed by AGI.

This paints a grim picture where an elite few wield unprecedented power over the masses, manipulating AGI for nefarious purposes. We must pause and consider the risks of AGI falling into the wrong hands. What if a wealthy individual, driven by ambition and greed, weaponizes AGI to bend the world to their will?

Leaders of tech companies are saying all the right things about the need for greater regulation. But their actions often contradict what they say in press releases or tweets. For example, Google fired an AI ethics researcher after she criticized some of the company's most lucrative work, and Microsoft fired its ethics and society team that taught employees how to make AI tools responsibly. And who could forget the moment Elon Musk fired the entire 'Ethical AI' team at Twitter in one swoop?

Although many extreme worst-case scenarios associated with AGI are unlikely, we need to explore the exact risks of a person or entity with dishonorable intentions not intending to use AGI for the greater good. What if the highest bidder of these powerful systems plans to use them as tools to attack people or entire nations? What if it unleashes the James Bond villain in a billionaire wanting to take over the world?

A gradual transition gives people, policymakers, and institutions time to understand what's happening, personally experience the benefits and downsides of these systems, adapt our economy, and put regulation in place. It also allows for society and AI to co-evolve and for people collectively to figure out what they want. At the same time, the stakes are relatively low.

Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI.

In a world where we possess the power to program the objectives of initial AGIs, the intentions of the individuals, nations, or corporations behind their creation remain a looming uncertainty. Unfortunately, history has shown us that long-term collective welfare is often cast aside in pursuit of immediate gains in power and wealth. Experts warn that we must also look beyond regulating AGI and safeguarding individuals against potential abuses by corporations and governments, who may use it to reduce costs or avoid accountability.

As we strive to manage risks and shield ourselves from the most formidable danger – the human condition – the prospect of an uncontrollable AI cannot be ignored. In the wrong hands, we could sleepwalk into a dystopian future that threatens to exacerbate the inequality we see in the world we see today and render the concept of meritocracy obsolete.

Ultimately, despite the giant scientific leaps forward, our fate could be determined by some of the worst human traits such as greed, selfishness, dishonesty, and cruelty combined with complex technologies. All these things must be considered in a belts and braces approach to IT and understanding the impact of every technological change will have on our future before this short window closes forever.