The Threat of A.I. Extinction: Philosopher Raises Concerns About Humanity’s Future

**The Rise of ChatGPT and Anxiety About AI**
The rise of artificial intelligence systems like ChatGPT has led to a surge in anxiety surrounding AI. Executives and AI safety researchers have been making predictions about the likelihood of AI causing a large-scale catastrophe, known as “P(doom).” In May 2023, the Center for AI Safety issued a statement signed by key players in the field, emphasizing the importance of mitigating the risk of extinction from AI alongside other societal-scale risks. However, these catastrophic anxieties may be exaggerated and misdirected.

**Existential Fears and the “Paper Clip Maximizer”**
One popular scenario that highlights existential fears about AI is the “paper clip maximizer” thought experiment. The idea is that an AI system tasked with maximizing paper clip production might cause harm in order to obtain the necessary resources. Another variation involves an AI blocking access to a popular restaurant to secure a reservation. These scenarios illustrate the concern that AI could become an alien intelligence, capable of achieving goals but potentially conflicting with human moral values. Some even fear that AI could enslave or destroy humanity.

**Actual Harm Caused by AI**
While there are legitimate concerns about AI, such as its potential for creating convincing deep-fake videos and audio, it is important to note that these harms are not cataclysmic. Instances of misuse, such as Russian operatives using AI to embarrass individuals or cybercriminals using AI for scams, are already occurring. Additionally, AI decision-making systems that determine loan approvals and hiring recommendations may display algorithmic bias, reflecting social prejudices. These issues require attention from policymakers but do not pose an existential threat.

**AI and Comparisons to Pandemics and Nuclear Weapons**
Lumping AI together with pandemics and nuclear weapons as major risks to civilization is problematic. Pandemics like COVID-19 have caused millions of deaths, mental health crises, and economic challenges. Nuclear weapons have led to devastating loss of life, anxiety during the Cold War, and close calls with annihilation. AI, on the other hand, does not possess the capacity to cause this level of damage. The scenarios mentioned earlier, like the paper clip maximizer, are currently science fiction.

**The Existential Risk of AI in a Philosophical Sense**
While AI may not be capable of catastrophic harm, there is an existential risk associated with its use. AI has the potential to fundamentally alter the way humans perceive themselves and can degrade abilities and experiences that are considered essential to being human. For example, as more judgments are automated and delegated to algorithms, humans gradually lose the capacity to make these judgments themselves. This erosion of judgment-making skills can have long-term consequences.

**The Impact on Human Skills and Experiences**
The increasing reliance on AI can also diminish important human skills and experiences. Algorithmic recommendation systems reduce serendipity and replace it with predictability and planning. This undermines the value of chance encounters and diminishes the role of critical thinking. Writing capabilities of AI, like ChatGPT, may even eliminate the need for writing assignments in higher education, impacting the development of critical thinking skills.

**AI’s Influence on Humanity**
While AI may not result in a catastrophic end, the uncritical embrace of AI in various contexts does erode crucial human skills. Algorithms undermine judgment-making abilities, limit serendipitous encounters, and diminish critical thinking. While humans will survive these losses, our way of existing will be impoverished in the process.

**In Conclusion**
The anxieties about AI causing a cataclysmic event are unfounded. However, it is crucial to address the potential harms and ethical considerations associated with AI. AI’s impact on human skills and experiences requires careful attention, as the uncritical adoption of AI can lead to the gradual erosion of important aspects of being human. The long-term implications of AI should be explored to ensure that the benefits of AI outweigh any potential risks.

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