The whole thing, all of it, depends on optimism.
Optimistic expectation is a natural force generated by humans and amplified by the networks that humans create.
At the core of the entire traditional liberal paradigm, since the enlightenment, is the expectation that things will be better in the future. If things get better at a rate of just 2% per year, compounded annually, things get twice as good in just 35 years. If things get better at just a little bit more than that, 3.6%, things get twice as good in just 20 years. We’ve come to expect things to become better, dependably, and predictably.
The enlightenment is an important event to call out. It’s way easier to shrug ones shoulders at the mysteries that nature puts out there and not even try to figure it out. And nature is really crafty about hiding things from us, isn’t? It’s really tough and hard work. And yet a group of curious people thought they could outsmart nature to understand nature. And another group of curiously curious people thought that if we could understand nature, we could use it to make humanity better off. And if we could make humanity better off, reliably, things would get better. They were very optimistic. They acted that way. And they turned out to be right. They were so right that North Macedonia is a democracy and some people have the luxury and privilege in not believing in polio vaccines. Truly, a stunning success.
When we doubt that things can get better, bad things happen, and our expectations that things will get worse happen. A good example of this is how things degenerated in Liberia. Things weren’t getting better for everybody in the 1940’s, and people couldn’t expect things to better for themselves by the way the True Whig Party monopolized power. Violence was used against Tubman in 1955. Tubman legitimized the use of violence in turn. 25 years later, in 1980, Samuel Doe had cabinet ministers tied to posts on the beach and had them publicly executed. 20 years later, it was considered routine to lop off limbs and press gang children into the army. People expected things to get worse, and they did.
Optimism matters because it fuels decisions and action which manifests great things, and it compounds. When we feel as though problems can be solved, we behave in ways that cause those problems to be solved.
As we head into the new year, it’ll be important to look just a little bit beyond the immediate issues with the business cycle, and the challenges in machine intelligence, to what is coming up later.
I expect that a lot of people are going to be bitterly disappointed in Artificial General Intelligence. As is tradition because everybody is bitterly disappointed when nature doesn’t open up super easily. Deep learning offered us a useful clue about how intelligence works, it didn’t give up the whole game.
And I expect a lot more people are going to be bitterly disappointed in the dislocation.
I also expect huge productivity gains to be made thanks to the diffusion of Narrow Machine Intelligence. And I expect that policy makers and societies will figure out a better way to even out the dislocation that those productivity gains will cause.
We’ll be better off if we expect to be better off and act that way. The whole thing depends on it.