What will happen when AI controls humanity

: Everything under control ?: How robots could change the future of mankind

In the hit movie "Avengers - Age of Ultron", an artificial intelligence called Ultron sets out to wipe out all organic life from the earth, including humanity. This is barely prevented by the superhero troop Avengers, but only when Iron Man, Hulk, Thor & Co combine their superhuman powers.

The threat posed by machines to humans is a popular topic in science fiction - and currently in the real world too. Robots take our work and income away, it is said, artificial intelligence makes us superfluous and poor. Whether this happens is controversial. But what if? What would happen if super-intelligent tech hijacked factories and offices? "The result would be a huge increase in inequality," said US Nobel Prize laureate Joseph Stiglitz.

The business calculation is the real danger

Machines opposing their creators have long populated the big screens. In 1968 the HAL computer kills almost the entire space ship crew on the "Odysee in Space". In the early eighties, the “Blade Runner” chases insurgent replicants, and the “Terminator” guard the people who serve them as work slaves - dominated by the super-intelligence Skynet.

In reality, however, it's not so much Artificial Intelligence (AI) that threatens humans. But the business calculation. Robots and computer programs replace employees because they are cheaper and perform better, they never get sick, have no vacation and no low performance, they go on strike and do not complain. They are often faster, more skillful, more persistent than humans - and increasingly smarter. Robots no longer only take on mechanical tasks, but also cognitive ones.

Whether the deserted factory will come or not, whether the majority of the population will still have work and wages in 50 years, this dispute rages among theoreticians. It will be decided in practice - we will see what the future brings. But the fact is already today: Robots are spreading. According to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), robot density is constantly reaching new record highs. In 2016 it was 66 units per 10,000 employees, last year it was 74 units. According to the IFR, this value will increase by five to 15 percent per year over the next few years, depending on the region.

Distribution of income is changing

Another fact is that automation is changing the distribution of income. First of all, those between the workforce - qualified employees earn more, less qualified employees less. Second, between labor and capital - wage incomes shrink relative to entrepreneurial incomes. Thirdly, regionally - successfully digitized centers are juxtaposed with remote regions.

“In economic terms, the spread of AI is primarily a question of distribution,” writes US Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz in a new study. In an ideal world, everyone would reap the benefits of technological progress. “But the real world does not correspond to this ideal.” In the borderline case, the machinery could become so cheap that the employees - in order to keep their jobs - would have to accept a wage that does not enable them to survive. At the same time, particularly innovative companies were able to enjoy particularly high profits. Stiglitz therefore believes that permanent redistribution is inevitable.

But what happens when the AI ​​reaches and exceeds the human level, which could happen between 2040 and 2050. “Then there are two scenarios,” explains Stiglitz. In the first “human and machine merge”, the AI ​​expands the possibilities of selected people beyond their biological limits.

There is a threat of a massive increase in inequality

According to the US economist, the result would be a massive increase in inequality. Because not all people could afford the new technology for the purpose of self-optimization. "If intelligence becomes a question of solvency, then it seems reasonable to assume that the wealthy, the optimized, will be many times more productive." This can be compared with health - rich people are already living significantly longer than poor people today.

In the second scenario, the super-intelligent units go their own way. In this case it might no longer be possible for people to remain in control, speculates Stiglitz, "just as it is not possible for a toddler to control their parents". Then there will be intensified competition between the machines and the people for scarce resources - the robots not only do the work, they also demand the necessary "consumer goods" such as energy, aluminum, water, land, which increases their prices - so far, that a normal mortal can no longer pay for it. The result would be a shrinking of humanity.

Everything under control?

According to Stiglitz, this is of course just playing around with economic models. People still have control over the machines. However - "an observer from another planet could no longer make a clear decision today whether, for example, AI units like Apple or Google control people's behavior or vice versa".

As a last resort, mankind would only be able to pull the plug in an emergency. She had done that in the movie "Matrix" too. But the machines knew what to do. They brooded people whose bodies they used as a source of bioenergy. Since then, the population has been sleeping peacefully in nutrient liquor and dreaming of an ideal world that they believe to be reality: everything under control.