Artificial Intelligence vs. Collective Intelligence
Business Review Interviews Max Borders
Business Review talked to Max about some of the issues he frequently writes and talks about, such as technology, politics and the challenges of the future.
Tell us a bit about your manifesto, The Social Singularity, and the concept of collective intelligence — how do you see the future of humanity?
In The Social Singularity I make an important distinction between artificial intelligence (which gets all the headlines) and collective intelligence (which gets hardly any). Everyone is so worried about how the robots will take our jobs that they’re not thinking about how humans are creating the means to work more collaboratively together at scale, and to add exponentially to their collaborative efforts. Distributed ledgers are just the beginning of how we can improve our collective intelligence (CI).
What roles are blockchain, AI or other emerging technologies going to play in human progress?
Blockchain is still clunky and inaccessible to the masses, but the rudiments and protocols of massive social complexity are currently being written into code. Pay no attention to the crypto markets in this regard. UX will improve. And the layers of adjacent possibility are going to form. As such humanity will find these tools not only more useful, but they will start to shape our behaviors in profound ways. One of the mantras of the book is “We shape our tools (and rules) and then our tools (and rules) shape us.” The ability to program incentives at scale should not be underestimated.
Now, of course, artificial intelligence is enormously useful. But the use cases for AI make the use cases for CI much starker. As we move forward, we’ll find these two somewhat discrete domains less discrete. More and more AI and CI will start to weave together until we see something closer to these phenomena merging. Humans will become something akin to sci-fi cyborgs, plugged into a network noosphere. That might sound strange. But it is a less frightening, less dystopian future than one in which AI wakes up, takes over, and doesn’t need us at all.
Do you think the fears that human workforce will be massively displaced by robots in the future are legitimate? If so, what can we do to prevent that from happening on a large scale and what should be done for those who lose their jobs to automation?
These are legitimate concerns, yes, but probably overblown. Those concerned tend to hold human capabilities and human collaboration technologies static–all while applying the logic of Moore’s Law to machines. We should be applying Moore’s Law improvements to everything innovation touches (not to mention Metcalfe’s Law and Reed’s Law). I also think that, though there will be mass displacement, it will amount to a great churn as people move into new or expanded industries we currently can’t foresee. These will be decidedly human (and humane) industries–that is, industries in which humans have a comparative advantage and which require our distinctly human ability to care (which AI researchers haven’t figured out yet).
What is wrong with our current political system? What should replace it and how would that happen? Do you think we’re going to see some sort of huge systemic change anytime soon?
Everything is wrong with our political systems. I don’t have the space here to discuss all that’s wrong. But I can give you five things:
- Voting is an illusion of participation. Each of us cries our teardrop into the ocean and expects the tide to turn.
- Political powers tend to collude with monied interests. People blame capitalism for everything under the sun, but most of the problems arise from the fact that political power is on the auction block, which draws the special interests.
- Politics is mostly about monolithic, top-down decisions that hold for whole nations, rather than small, localized experiments in governance. When your rulesets are comprehensive, you introduce the possibility of system-wide catastrophe.
- Politics makes us antagonist, tribal, and unproductive–where we could be spending more energy on being creative and collaborative in our niches.
- Politics is fundamentally about the threat of violence. Unitary decisions made at the top of a dominance hierarchy by people with guns and jails is certainly a way to get things done, but it is not usually a healthy, productive, or virtuous way.
As we approach the social singularity, we are likely to see a lot more decentralization. People will be able to self-organize in the cloud without permission from central authorities. That lateralization of human relationships will be enormously powerful, perhaps too powerful for the political class to stop. And if something isn’t working within a system, people can leave. This power to exit is a check on any system of human organization; Exit has historically been high cost.
You’ve written about the idea that hierarchies, which currently dominate our system, could be replaced by other, decentralized structures. How do those structures work and are they more likely to work well now thanks to technology?
Hierarchies work in bi-directional flows up and down chains of command. When seen through the lens of information processing, these structures have limits. To overcome those limits these structures have to transform. Hierarchies have to become more delegative and decentralized, until eventually you get networks. Networks and their properties allow for what is known as a “complexity transitions,” which are not inevitable, but likely–that is, if the system is not going to collapse under the forces of ever-increasing complexity.
Cryptocurrencies are increasingly popular, but it still seems that most people don’t really know what they are or understand how they work. Do you think they will eventually become universal and lead to major changes in our financial system? What’s missing right now for this type of breakthrough to happen?
Most cryptocurrencies were created by left-brained uber-geeks, for left-brained uber-geeks. But the crypto winter has taught the geeks a lesson: They need more right-brained people to help with UX, as well as marketers to explain the value of the technology to people who are comfortable in the status quo and used to simply swiping right to get a date. There are all manner of other stakeholder and ecosystem considerations, but UX and improved ways to communicate value to customers are at the top of the list for me. Simplicity, security, and low transaction costs will subvert the current financial system.