People often say we are going through the fourth industrial revolution. (This is actually the sixth time that people have said that.) The trouble is, it dramatically under-states the importance of what is happening – and what is coming next.
We are in the early stages of the fourth revolution in human history. The other three were the cognitive revolution (50-70,000 years ago), the agricultural revolution (around 12,000 years ago), and the industrial revolution (from the 17th century). We are now in the early stages of the information revolution, which will have an even more profound impact on us than its predecessors.
I give talks and write books about what this means, and in particular about the future impact of artificial intelligence, or AI, which is the most powerful component of the information revolution.
I believe this is the century of two “singularities”, a term that John von Neumann borrowed from physics to denote a moment of maximum transformation. They are, chronologically, the economic singularity (cognitive automation leading to technological unemployment), and the technological singularity (superintelligence).
The economic singularity can liberate us from wage slavery, and spark a second renaissance. But we will need a different form of capitalism – fully automated luxury capitalism – to achieve the economy of abundance. And in the meantime we need to navigate the great Churn, the accelerating process of re-training and re-skilling.
The technological singularity is when we create human-level artificial intelligence (artificial general intelligence or AGI), which goes on to become a superintelligence. As the journalist Andrew Marr said, this will be the “the greatest achievement of humanity since the invention of agriculture [and it will] challenge the very idea of what it is to be human.”
Both these singularities could have wonderful consequences for us – or terrible ones. The outcome is partly up to us. Humanity stumbled blindly through the first three revolutions. We cannot afford to do that again. The upside potential is too great, as well as the downside risk.
My name is Calum Chace. I live in the UK and Spain, and my work is informed by the experience of a 30-year career in business. You can see some of my talks here.
If you are new to the idea that machine consciousness and superintelligence may be with us soon (in decades rather than centuries), my novel Pandora’s Brain and my non-fiction books Surviving AI and The Economic Singularity are great places to start.
Finally, why Pandora’s Brain? In Greek mythology, Pandora was the first woman, and Zeus ordered her to be created to punish men for accepting the forbidden gift of fire from Prometheus. She was given a jar containing all the evils of the world. She had strict instructions never to open it, but humans are curious, so of course she did, which is exactly what Zeus intended. That is how the Greeks thought evil came into our world. But the jar also contained something else – something vital for humans: it contained hope.
“Pandora’s Brain”, “Surviving AI” and “The Economic Singularity” are all available at Amazon in ebook, paperback and audio formats