Audiocast: Humanity’s Final Invention


“After On” Audio Series: Episode 7 of 8

Discussing the super AI debate with a man who helped start it

I recently recorded a wide-ranging interview with documentary filmmaker and author James Barrat about the actual risks a super AI could pose to humanity. His book, Our Final Invention, first rocketed to prominence after Elon Musk tweeted approval of it in the summer of 2014.

To access our interview, either:

  1. Type “After On” into your podcast app’s search field, or . . .
  2. Click the “play” button at the top of this page, or . . .
  3. Click here, then click the blue “View on iTunes” button in the upper left corner of the page (requires iTunes, of course),

Musk was likewise supportive of Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies by Nicholas Bostrom, which debuted in the same rough timeframe. And with that, it was suddenly respectable — even fashionable — for tech folks to worry about super AI risk. Previously, few raised the subject with industry chums, fearing the sort of tittering that topics like UFOs and astrology trigger.

But then (as I note in the recording), it’s as if Elon gave people permission to take this issue seriously — and many smart folks (as smart as Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking) started voicing concern. Super AI has remained on the broader industry agenda ever since. And it should never leave it. Even extreme skeptics can’t argue that the dangers constitute a 0 .0000% risk. Given that the downside here is humanity’s extinction (yes, really), not even minuscule risks can be ignored. And James Barrat (along with Elon, Bill, Stephen, and many others) believes the risks are anything but tiny.

James presents his arguments in a very structured way in our interview. So if you’ve been seeking a compact, but authoritative overview of this complex subject, this is a great place to start. There’s also plenty here for those already deep into this domain, as James has long been one of its key exponents. And he couldn’t have come it via a cooler route, as his fascination stems from an interview he conducted with Arthur C. Clarke while making a documentary about 2001: A Space Odyssey. Clarke’s imagination gave us HAL 9000 — the first rogue AI to make it big in popular culture — and their interview gave James a chilling counterpoint to the rosy scenarios he’d collected from AI zealots like Ray Kurzweil and Rodney Brooks for the same film.

This is the seventh audiocast in an eight-part series that I previewed to Medium members and am now podcasting. They all add context to my novel After On — but it is NOT necessary to read the novel in order to listen to and learn from them. Significant discussion of the book is delayed until the very last section of the audiocast, when my cohost (Tom Merritt) and I relate the interview to the storyline.

I’m increasingly likely to continue creating new episodes after the first eight are public. If I do, the podcast’s tagline and theme will be “unhurried conversations with thinkers, founders, and scientists.” If you like the sound of that, you may wish to subscribe. To do so, simply follow instruction set #1 or #3 at the top of this page.

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