Silicon Valley Is Turning Into Its Own Worst Fear

Ted Chiang:

There are industry observers talking about the need for AIs to have a sense of ethics, and some have proposed that we ensure that any superintelligent AIs we create be “friendly,” meaning that their goals are aligned with human goals. I find these suggestions ironic given that we as a society have failed to teach corporations a sense of ethics, that we did nothing to ensure that Facebook’s and Amazon’s goals were aligned with the public good. But I shouldn’t be surprised; the question of how to create friendly AI is simply more fun to think about than the problem of industry regulation, just as imagining what you’d do during the zombie apocalypse is more fun than thinking about how to mitigate global warming.

The perceived threat posed by superintelligence is an idea that was shot to pieces by Maciej, but this framing – that it’s an insight into the minds of Silicon Valley’s corporations and its leadership – actually makes a lot of sense.

Perhaps we can use it to understand another of its weird obsessions, “curing” death. As noted by Emily Dreyfuss (Silicon Valley Would Rather Cure Death than Make Life worth Living):

The harm here isn’t just that Silicon Valley is trying to solve the wrong problem, which wastes brainpower and resources. The focus on innovating away death sets a cultural tone that directs attention from answers that might actually help, like infrastructure or education.

I tend to agree with Steve Jobs, who said death is the greatest invention of life. Maybe this particular obsession is just a manifestation of what corporations perceive as death: regulation. As the original title of Ted’s article stated – the real danger to civilisation isn’t AI. It’s runaway capitalism.