Harvard researcher warns that AI arms race could destroy civilization

“Both countries could face a catastrophe.”

AIRMS race

The US-China AI arms race is here, and both international powers are vying for ultimate power over the fast-growing — and increasingly impressive — technology. But civilization as we know it could pay a heavy price if we don’t eliminate competition soon, according to a Harvard researcher.

“This competition is associated with enormous risks” Will Henshall, a graduate researcher studying public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, wrote for The Boston Globe. “Unless the United States and China find ways to mitigate these risks, both countries could face catastrophe.”


Henshall’s argument presents AI as the next breakthrough general-purpose technology, and as with other general-purpose breakthroughs before it, countries will do whatever it takes to gain dominance over it. As nations around the world seek to further integrate AI into advanced weaponry, in this case, that means spending a lot of military money.

“In FY2021, the US government spent $10.8 billion on AI research and development, including $9.3 billion from the Department of Defense,” Henshall writes, meanwhile noting that the U.S. also transitioned to do so are making it harder for China to get the resources needed to build AI, such as making computer chips, seemingly to stifle competition. “Chinese public spending on AI is less transparent, but analysts estimate it’s roughly comparable.”

In the context of the broader general history of technology, this is normal behavior. New inventions have always fueled nations and their economies, and world powers are acting swiftly to ensure they reap the lion’s share of the benefits, whether economically, defensively, or in this case, both.

But AI could be radically different. A steam engine, researchers’ favorite foil against the AI ​​threat, travels from point A to point B. Sure, it could crash, but not even a fleet of steam engines could inadvertently destroy entire nations, let alone civilization as a whole.

AI, at least in thought experiments like the paperclip problem, very well could. And right now, we just don’t know enough about it to prevent that from happening safely — especially in an environment where competition overrides collaboration, a system that inherently favors power and speed over precaution.

And when it comes to such powerful technology – technology that we don’t even really understand yet – it seems more than necessary to prioritize precaution. Perhaps, as Henshall argues, for the sake of all of us.

CONTINUE READING: The steam engine changed the world. Artificial intelligence could destroy it. [The Boston Globe]

More on doomsday AI: Oxford scientists warn that AI could be deadlier than nuclear weapons

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