03.07.2019

Author Amy Webb on Her New Book, “The Big Nine”

Hari Sreenivasan sits down with futurist Amy Webb, who warns against the dangers of tech giants and their latest technology in her new book “The Big Nine: How the Tech Titans and their Thinking Machines Could Warp Humanity.”

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AND WE NOW TURN BACK TO THE FUTURE.

WHERE ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE IS RE-WEAVING THE FABRIC OF OUR SOCIETY.

AND OUR NEXT GUEST SAID THAT WE NEED TO CHANGE PATTERNS.

AMY WEBB IS THE FOUNDER OF THE FUTURE TODAY INSTITUTE.

HER NEW BOOK 'THE BIG NINE' HOW THE TECH NIGHTANS AND THEIR THINKING MACHINES COULD WARP HUMANITY WITH LITTLE CHOICE AND NO CONTROL, WHERE WARS ARE FOUGHT BY COMPUTER CODE.

SHE SAT DOWN WITH OUR HARI SREENIVASAN.

YOU SAY IN THE BOOK, THERE ARE NINE COMPANIES IN CHARGE OF MOST OF THE AI IN THE UNITED STATES AND YOU CALL IT THE G MIFF MAFIA AN ACRONYM FOR GOOGLE, MICROSOFT, APPLE, FACEBOOK, IBM AND AMAZON, RIGHT.

MM-HMM.

THOSE COMPANIES HERE, YOU SAY THAT THE CONCERN THAT YOU HAVE IS THAT THEY'RE ALL OPERATING WITH MARKET PRESSURES AND COMMERCIAL REALITIES.

WHY IS THAT A PROBLEM?

THE CHALLENGE WITH AI IS THAT YOU HAVE A RELATIVELY SMALL GROUP OF PEOPLE IN A HANDFUL OF COMPANIES IN THE UNITED STATES BUILDING OUT THESE SYSTEMS AND UNFORTUNATELY THEY DON'T HAVE THE LUXURY OF TAKING TIME TO DO RISK MODELING AND ASSESSMENT TO THINK ABOUT GUARD RAILS TO SANDBOX AND TEST THINGS TO MAKE SURE THAT THEY ARE SAFE OR THAT THEY ARE NOT GOING TO EVOLVE IN WAYS THAT WE HAVEN'T YET SEEN, RIGHT.

THEY'RE BUSINESS MODELS HAS BEEN REWARDED FOR THE OPPOSITE.

THAT IS RIGHT.

SO RUN FAST AND BREAK THINGS.

BUT IN THE CASE OF AI YOU SAY THIS IS MUCH MORE DANGEROUS THAN T INTERNET STUFF WE ARE TALKING ABOUT NOW.

I WOULD SAY SO.

AND THEY ARE A PUBLIC COMPANY AND THEY HAVE RESPONSIBILITIES TO SHAREHOLDERS AND SHAREHOLDERS HAVE LESS AND LESS PATIENCE.

A COUPLE OF WEEKS AGO, GOOGLE HAD AN -- AS PART OF THE EARNINGS CALL HAD TO DISCLOSE ITS R&D SPEND WHICH WAS PIE.

IT WAS VERY BIG.

AND IT MEANT THAT SOME OF THE MARGINS IN OTHER PLACES WOULD BE SMALLER AND INVESTORS FREAKED OUT.

IT IS NOT LIKE THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT HAS A GIANT POOL OF MONEY FUNDING BASIC SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY RESEARCH.

WE DID YEARS AGO BUT WE DON'TVE.

WHICH MEANS THAT IN THE UNITED STATES THE ENTIRE FUTURE OF AI IS BEING BUILT BY ESSENTIALLY SIX COMPANIES.

WHO HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY TO THEIR SHAREHOLDERS, WHO DON'T HAVE THE LUXURY TO SAY LET US KEEP OUR HEADS DOWN AND WORK ON THIS WITHOUT THE EXPECTATION THAT THERE WILL BE A PRODUCT AT THE END OF IT, AND ON TOP OF ALL OF THAT, THERE HAS BEEN NO STRATEGIC DIRECTION IN OUR -- UNDER OUR CURRENT ADMINISTRATION ON AI.

WE HAVE NO NATIONAL STRATEGY OR POINT OF VIEW.

AND AI IS NOT A -- [ INAUDIBLE ]. IT IS THE NEXT ERA OF COMPUTING INTO WHICH EVERYTHING ELSE IS TIED.

SO WE HAVE A SITUATION IN WHICH THERE IS AN ANTAGONISTIC RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN OUR CONGRESS PEOPLE AND REGULATORS AND WHAT IS HAPPENING IN THE VALLEY WITH WALL STREET FOR THE MOST PART CALLING THE SHOTS.

IT IS A DANGEROUS SITUATION DURING A TIME IN WHICH IN CHINA THE THREE PREDOMINANT, ALIBABA AND TEN ARE OPERATING IN PUBLIC WITH LOCK STEP WITH BECAUSE OF CHANGED REGULATIONS ARE NOW PRESIDENT FOR LIFE AND HE IS A SMART GUY.

A SMART GUY WHO IS GOOD AT A ALIGNING OTHER LEADERS AROUND HIM.

THE COMPANIES THAT ARE WORKING IN CHINA RIGHT NOW, ARE THEY PART OF A LARGER GEOPOLITICAL STRATEGY THAT CHINA

THAT IS A GOOD QUESTION.

NOTHING ON PAPER WOULD AFFIRM THAT.

HOWEVER, FROM MY VANTAGE POINT, THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT IS HAPPENING.

SO ALIBABA AND TEN SENT FOCUS ON DIFFERENT ASPECTS OF AI.

ALIBABA IS SIMILAR TO AMAZON.

BAIDU IS SIMILAR TO GOOGLE.

AND WHAT IS ALL OF THIS HAVE TO DO WITH PEOPLE?

WHY SHOULD ANYBODY CARE OUTSIDE OF CHINA.

THERE IS THE BELT AND ROAD INITIATIVE.

THIS IS A DIPLOMAT EFFORT.

CHINA'S TRADING DEBT FOR INFRASTRUCTURE, SO IT IS GOING IN AND BUILDING ROADS AND BRIDGES, SO THAT IS INTERESTING.

AND THERE IS ABOUT 60 COUNTRIES NOW THAT ARE PART OF THIS INITIATIVE.

BUT IT IS ALSO A DEEPLY FUNDED DIGITAL INITIATIVE SO IN ADDITION TO BRIDGES AND ROADS, CHINA IS LAYING FIBER AND PUTTING SMALL CELLS TO BUILD 5-G NETWORK AND EXPORTING AI AND DATA COLLECTION TECHNIQUES BUT IT IS CHINA SO WHICH THAN -- YOU ARE PLAYING BY THE RULES GOVERNMENT.

AND THERE IS A LARGE SCALE GOING WITH THE SOCIAL CREDIT SYSTEM.

SO THE SOCIAL CREDIT SCORE SYSTEM IS A WAY OF COLLECTING DATA TO TRACK HOW PEOPLE ARE PERFORMING IN SOCIETY.

SO AS AN EASY EXAMPLE, THERE IS A COUPLE OF PROVINCES WHERE THIS TECHNOLOGY IS TESTED.

IF YOU JAY WALK WHEN THE LIGHT IS RED ACROSS THE STREET, THERE ARE SMART CAMERAS THAT LINE THE STREETS EVERYWHERE AND YOU ARE AUTOMATICALLY RECOGNIZED AND YOUR FACE IS THROWN UP ON A DIGITAL BILLBOARD SO EVERYBODY ELSE COULD SEE THAT YOU'VE JUST BROKEN THE LAW.

YOU'RE A JAY WALKER.

PUBLIC SHAMING, SO THAT IS A PIECE OF IT.

AND YOU'RE ASKING TO REPORT TO A LOCAL POLICE PRECINCT.

USUALLY THERE IS A -- IT COULD BE A FINE LEVIED AND SOCIAL NETWORKS ARE USED TELL YOUR EMPLOYER AND FAMILY MEMBERS THAT YOU HAVE GONE AGAINST THE GRAIN OF SOCIETY AND YOU'VE -- YOU'VE BROKEN THE LAW.

THIS IS HAPPENING KNEW.

THIS IS HAPPENING NOW.

AND THIS IS LIKE A FICO SCORE BUT RELATED TO EVERY OTHER PART OF YOUR LIFE.T IS RIGHT.

SO IF YOU HAVE A BAD CREDIT SCORE, YOU'LL HAVE A HARD TIME GETTING A CAR, YOU'LL HAVE A HARD TIME GETTING A MORTGAGE.

PEOPLE MAY PASS JUDGMENT ON YOU.

YOU MAY HAVE A HEARD TIME GETTING CERTAIN KINDS OF JOBS.

THIS IS LIKE THAT.

FOR EVERY ASPECT OF YOUR LIFE.

SO IF YOU HAVE A LOW SCORE, YOUR KIDS AREN'T GETTING INTO THE RIGHT SCHOOLS.

NOW, AGAIN, YOU MAY ASK YOURSELF, THAT IS FASCINATING.

I DON'T LIVE IN CHINA.

SO WHY DO I CARE ABOUT IS THIS?

THIS TECHNOLOGY AND THIS CONCEPT IS ALREADY BEING EXPORTED.

IF YOU ARE IN AN AUTHORITARIAN RULER.

AND YOU WANT TO KEEP PEOPLE IN LINE.

THIS IS A NIFTY WAY G THAT HAPPEN.

SO YOU CREATE THE INCENTIVE AND DISINCENTIVE TO FIGURE OUT HOW YOU WANT TO STEER THE POPULATION.

THAT IS RIGHT.

AND IF IT IS THE CASE THAT ALL OF THE PEOPLE IN THE COUNTRIES HAVE A SOCIAL CREDIT SCORE, ISN'T IT PLAUSIBLE THAT THE COMPANIES WHERE THEY WORK WILL BE GRANTED SOME TYPE OF CORPORATE CREDIT SCORE.

FOR THE PURPOSE OF DETERMINING TRADE VALUES.

AND TAXES AND TARIFFS AND THINGS LIKE THAT.

SO IF THAT IS WHAT IS HAPPENING AND WE ARE NOT A PART OF THAT PROCESS, AS CHINA CREATES A NEW WORLD ORDER, USING ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, ISN'T IT PLAUSE ABLE THAT AS AMERICANS WE WON'T HAVE A SOCIAL CREDIT SCORE AND THE COMPANIES THAT WE OWN OR WORK FOR WON'T HAVE A KRORPT CREDIT SCORE AND IT MAY BE IMPOSSIBLE FOR US TO DO BUSINESS IN ANY OF THOSE COUNTRIES.

UNLESS WE OPT IN.

UNLESS WE OPT IN.

YOU SEEM LESS CONCERNED ABOUT THE TERMINATOR SCENE ARROW AND ROBOTS COMING AND DECIDING WE'RE INEFFICIENT THAN EROSION OF HUMANITY AND AS YOU TALK ABOUT AI MAKING CHOICES WHAT ARE THE VALUES BASED ON WHEN THEY ARE MACHINES.

I'M A PRAGMATIST.

THIS DOESN'T MEAN I'M NOT CONCERNED A LITTLE BIT ABOUT A WEAPONIZED VERSION OF AI.

BUT THE PRAGMATIST IN ME IS MUCH MORE CONCERNED ABOUT WHAT IS HAPPENING NOW.

AND WHAT IS HAPPENING NOW IS THAT WE ARE SURROUNDED BY SYSTEMS THAT MAKE MILLIONS OF DECISIONS ON OUR BEHALF EVERY DAY ALL DAY LONG.

AND THE POINT OF THIS IS TO OPTIMIZE OUR LIVES.

THE CHALLENGE WITH AI, OPTIMIZING OUR LIVES, IS THAT THE PEOPLE WHO BUILT THE SYSTEMS TO MAKE -- THOSE PEOPLE MADE DETERMINATIONS ABOUT WHAT OPTIMAL IS.

AND THE PEOPLE WORKING ON THE SYSTEMS, QUITE FRANKLY, DON'T REALLY LOOK LIKE OR REPRESENT EVERYBODY.

AND IF YOU'RE -- IF YOU DON'T SHARE THE SAME WORLD VIEW AS A CRITICAL MASS OF PEOPLE, IF YOU DON'T HAVE THE SAME EXPERIENCES, IF, IF, IF, HOW CAN THE SYSTEMS THAT ARE DESIGNED TO MAKE OPTIMAL DECISIONS FOR US ALL POSSIBLY REFLECT OUR OWN INDIVIDUALISTIC VALUES.

THEY CAN'T.

THINK OF ALL OF THE DIFFERENT THINGS IN OUR LIVES THAT WE ARE LOSING THE ABILITY TO HAVE ANY MOATIC UM OF CONTROL OVER.

ALL OF US ARE BEING NUDGED EVERY TIME WE SENT AN E-MAIL OR A TEXT MESSAGE, YOU SEE AT THE BOTTOM OF YOUR PHONE --

SUGGEST THE RESPONSE.

SUGGESTED RESPONSES.

MY HUSBAND IS A PERFECT EXAMPLE.

SO A COUPLE OF DAYS AGO I TEXTED MY HUSBAND SOMETHING AND HE TEXTED ME SOMETHING BACK.

AND IT WAS LIKE A SET PHRASE THAT I'VE LITERALLY -- WE'VE BEEN MARRIED FOR TEN WORDS NEVER ONCE HEARD HIM SAY THIS AND IT IRRITATED ME BECAUSE I FELT LIKE HE WASN'T COMMUNITY KATE -- COMMUNICATING WITH ME IN A PERSONAL WAY.

YOU WEREN'T WORTH THE -- IT WAS A BUTTON.

AND WE COME HOME AND HAVE DINNER AND I SAID HEY, REMEMBER THE TEXT MESSAGE.

YEAH, I WROTE YOU BACK.

AND EXACTLY.

DID YOU TYPE THE SPONSOR JUST CLICK THE BUTTON AND WILL I CLICKED THE BUTTON, IT MEANT THE SAME THING.

BUT THE PROBLEM IS IT DOESN'T MEAN -- IT DOESN'T LITERALLY MEAN THE SAME THING BUT IT DOESN'T MEAN THE SAME THING.

AND I THINK WE DON'T RECOGNIZE JUST HOW MUCH OF OUR LIVES ARE ALREADY BEING OPTIMIZED BY A HANDFUL OF PEOPLE WORKING IN SILICON VALLEY. WAYS THAT OVER E MAY SEEM INSIGNIFICANT NOW BUT OVER TIME THEY HAVE THE POTENTIAL TO CHANGE THE FABRIC OF SOCIETY AND HOW WE RELATE TO EACH OTHER.

AND YOU SAY IN THU HAVE ONE OPTIMISTIC ONE, THE BEST CASE SCENARIO AND A PRAGMATIC AND NOT SO GREAT ONE.

CONSIDERING WHAT WHERE AT TODAY, WHAT IS THE MORE LIKELY ONE THAT WILL HAPPEN?

WHAT I THINK IS LIKELY IS SIMILAR BETWEEN THE PRAGMATIC AND AT CATASTROPHIC SCENARIOS.

IN WHICH WE SLOWLY LOSE CONTROL OVER THE ABILITY TO MAKE DECISIONS.

WE SEE MORE AND MORE CONSOLIDATION.

WE HAVE LESS CHOICE IRONICALLY.

WE FIND THAT WE ARE BEING NUDGED CONTINUOUSLY AND BEING NUDGED BY OUR TECHNOLOGY CONTINUOUSLY NOT ONLY MAKES US MISERABLE BUT WE ALSO START TO FORGET THAT WE HAVE SOME AGENCY AND HOW TO DO IT IS SORT OF ENCOURAGES A MENTAL LAZINESS THAT SPILLS OVER INTO OTHER AREAS OF LIFE.

AND SLOWLY BUT SURELY CHINA BUILDS AN ARSENAL OF CODE AS IT DEPLOYS THE THIS NEW KIND OF DIPLOMACY AND WE FIND THAT THE WORLD IS DIVIDED IN NEW AND QUITE UNCOMFORTABLE WAYS.

AND WE'RE LOOKING AT FUTURE WARS FOUGHT IN CODE, RATHER THAN COMBAT.AND WE KNOW WHEN THE FIRS HAVE BEEN FIRED WHEN OUR LIGHTS START FLICKERING INTERMITTENTLY AND WE GET LOCKED OUT OF OUR SMART MICROWAVE AND WE FIND THAT OUR LIVES ARE DIFFICULT BECAUSE SOMEBODY HAS DECIDED TO RESTRICT THEM.

THAT -- I THINK WHAT PEOPLE HAVE IN THEIR HEADS IS SOME KIENT KIND OF EVENT HORIZON WHERE THE MACHINES WAKE UP AND COME TO KILL US ALL.

THAT WOULD CERTAINLY BE HORRIBLE.T SO WOULD LIVING IN AD WHERE IN A COUNTRY LIKE AMERICA WHICH IS BUILT ON INDIVIDUAL FREEDOMS WE FIND THAT WE ARE -- WE ARE BOUND BY RESTRICTIONS AND ALL OF THESE DIFFERENT WAYS AND SYSTEMS ARE MAKING DECISIONS ABOUT US AND FOR US.

IN WAYS THAT ARE COMPLETELY UNINTELLIGIBLE.

THAT TO ME WOULD BE IN A WAY WORSE.

A SINGLE EVENT HORIZON, A SINGLE BOMB THAT DROPS THAT DESTROYS -- THAT OBVIOUSLY IS BAD.

BUT ISN'T IS ALMOST WORSE TO LIVE THROUGH GENERATIONS OF TRANSITION AWAY FROM FREEDOM WHERE WE ARE RIGHT NOW TO RESOLUTE CONTROL.

TO ME THAT IS WORSE.

SO IT ISN'T A HAPPY ENDING.

I KNOW.

BUT THERE ARE -- MY POINT WITH ALL OF THIS -- I KNOW THE CATASTROPHIC SCENARIO IS BLEAK AND SCARED PEOPLE WHO READ EARLY VERSIONS OF IT.

BUT MY PURPOSE FOR DOING THIS IS TO CHANGE OUR DEVELOPMENTAL PATH SO THAT THERE IS --

THAT WE HAVE AGENCY NOW THAT WE COULD DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT TO GET OFF THAT TRACK?

THAT IS RIGHT.

SO IF WE STOP THINKING ABOUT ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AS A GREAT WAY TO MAKE MONEY FAST, RIGHT OR SOME KIND OF MORPHOUS WAY TO ENSURE OUR HUMAN LONGEVITY FAR INTO THE -- OR SCI-FI OR WHATEVER IT IS, IF WE CAN GET DOWN TO BRASS TAX AND AGAIN LIKE START MAKING SMARTER DECISION IN A COLLABORATE WAY, I THINK WE HAVE A REAL OPPORTUNITY TO MAKE GOOD ON SOME OF THOSE PROMISES.

BUT THE WAY TO DO THAT IS TO TREAT ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AS A PUBLIC GOOD.

IT IS SOMETHING WE ALL HAVE A STAKE IN.

LIKE THE AIR.

RIGHT.

AND FOR TO -- FOR IT TO BE SOMETHING THAT WE REAP THE REWARDS AND BENEFITS FROM BUT ALSO PROTECT.

AMY WEBB, THANKS FOR JOINING US.

THANK YOU.

About This Episode EXPAND

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Hari Sreenivasan speaks with author and futurist Amy Webb about her new book, “The Big Nine.”

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