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MIT Better World

Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence (Knopf, 2017)


By Max Tegmark, professor of physics, founder of the Future of Life Institute


From chapter 3, “The Near Future: Breakthroughs, Bugs, Laws, Weapons and Jobs” (© 2017 by Max Tegmark)

In order to reap [the] benefits of AI without creating new problems, we need to answer many important questions. For example:

1. How can we make future AI systems more robust than today’s, so that they do what we want without crashing, malfunctioning or getting hacked?

2. How can we update our legal systems to be more fair and efficient and to keep pace with the rapidly changing digital landscape?

3. How can we make weapons smarter and less prone to killing innocent civilians without triggering an out-of-control arms race in lethal autonomous weapons?

4. How can we grow our prosperity through automation without leaving people lacking income or purpose? These four near-term questions are aimed mainly at computer scientists, legal scholars, military strategists and economists, respectively. However, to help get the answers we need by the time we need them, everybody needs to join this conversation, because as we’ll see, the challenges transcend all traditional boundaries—both between specialties and between nations.

Machine, Platform, Crowd: Harnessing Our Digital Future (Norton, 2017)


By Erik Brynjolfsson PhD ’91, director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy (IDE) and Schussel Family Professor of Management Science; and Andrew McAfee ’88, ’89, SM ’90, co-director, IDE


From the conclusion, “Economies and Societies Beyond Computation” (© 2017 by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee)

Although we field many requests for advice on how a company can thrive in the digital era, some of the most common questions we get take a broader view: What does the machine-platform-crowd transformation mean for society? Will machines leave people unemployed? Will powerful platforms control all our economic decisions? Will individuals have less freedom to decide how and when they work, where they live, and who their friends are?

These are profoundly important issues. But too often, they are variants of a single question: What will technology do to us?

And that’s not the right question. Technology is a tool. That is true whether it’s a hammer or a deep neural network. Tools don’t decide what happens to people. We decide. The lesson we’ve learned from studying thousands of companies over our careers is that while technology creates options, success depends on how people take advantage of these options. The success of a venture almost never turns on how much technology it can access, but on how its people use that technology, and on what values they imbue in the organization.

We have more powerful technology at our disposal than ever before, both as individuals and as a society. This means we have more power to change the world than ever before. [. . .] So we should ask not “What will technology do to us?” but rather “What do we want to do with technology?”